Great Britain have missed out on the Billie Jean King Cup Finals after Harriet Dart’s loss to France’s world number five Caroline Garcia sealed defeat in their best-of-five qualifier.
Dart, Britain’s highest-ranked player in the absence of Emma Raducanu, was beaten 6-1 6-7 (10-12) 6-1 by Garcia.
The 2022 US Open semi-finalist’s win gave France an unassailable 3-0 lead.
Instead of being in the 12-team Finals, Britain must contest a play-off to earn a spot in the 2024 qualifiers.
Anne Keothavong’s squad will be demoted to the Group I stage of the competition – the level below the top world tier and played regionally in the European/African zone – if they lose the tie in November.
“The players should feel proud of themselves,” Keothavong said.
“It hasn’t been the easiest of years for any of our players on the team, but they’ve gone out there and there have been times where they’ve shown what they’re capable of.
“Now it’s important that they’re able to take all the good stuff that they get from these weeks into their next tournament and continue to build on their season.”
‘Garcia fifth in the world for a reason’
Britain always faced a tough challenge against a French team who are much stronger in terms of rankings and previous pedigree.
The task became even harder when they lost two tight singles matches in Coventry on Friday, which featured five tie-breaks and fine margins as Dart lost to Alize Cornet after team-mate Katie Boulter was edged out by Garcia.
The nature of those defeats left British captain Keothavong describing sport as being “brutal” and she was tasked with picking up her players overnight.
Dart, 26, was back out on court about 18 hours after her chastening defeat by Cornet, knowing she had to win to keep alive Britain’s faint hopes.
The chances of that looked slim after a one-sided opening set where Garcia clinically picked apart Dart’s service game.
Garcia, who won the WTA Finals last year in her biggest triumph to date, quietened the 2,000-strong home crowd and the flat atmosphere indicated few truly expected a fightback from the home player.
But Dart is a feisty competitor and there was no way she was going to roll over.
“It’s a short turnaround and it’s not usually like that, when you lose your tournament is done,” Dart said.
“Physically, I felt good and I was ready to play. She’s four or five in the world for a reason.”
Digging deep to hold her serves but unable to get a look on Garcia’s, Dart led on the scoreboard in the second set before it moved into a nervy tie-break.
It was the sixth tie-break in the seven sets played over the weekend and, after missing three set points and saving two match points, Dart took her fourth chance to take the match into a decider.
After all the hard work needed to win the second set, Dart’s energy levels and adrenalin dipped at the start of the third, with the Briton winning just nine points as Garcia took control to seal the tie for the visitors.
“I haven’t felt my best but competed with what I had and left it all out there,” Dart added.
“I’m just missing a few points here and there, it contributed to the momentum changes in the matches a lot. I’m not missing by a lot but missing a few points here and there can make such a big difference.
“If I tighten them up, the match is totally different.”
Will Raducanu return for the next tie?
British number one Raducanu, 20, was missing against France after making herself unavailable and preferring to focus on a clay-court WTA event in Stuttgart next week.
While the next tie is seven months away, Keothavong reiterated her belief that 2021 US Open champion Raducanu is keen to play for her nation and expects her back in the fold.
“If she continues playing and is fit and healthy, I see no reason why she wouldn’t be part of the team,” the British captain said.
“We’re still months away and the end of the season is always a tough time and whoever is most fresh and healthy will be part of the team.”
Will Britain earn another finals reprieve?
Great Britain earned a reprieve after losing at the same stage last year, awarded a wildcard for the finals when the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) stepped in to host the event in Glasgow.
The team made the most of the opportunity by going on to reach the last four, but it looks unlikely to happen again this year with the International Tennis Federation (ITF) – the tournament organisers – having other viable options.