BJK Cup semi-finalists out of 2023 Finals

BILLIE Jean King Cup reigning semi-finalists Great Britain were eliminated from the 2023 title race after bowing out to France in the Qualifiers over the weekend. Twelve months ago, then top-ranked France suffered a shock loss to Italy in the Qualifiers to miss out on competing at the Finals, but after defeating Netherlands in the Playoffs, earned a spot for a crack back in the Finals.

France took that advantage with both hands as the European nation won 3-1 over Great Britain with world number five Caroline Garcia leading the way. Despite Garcia and 70th ranked Alize Cornet tipped to be too strong for the Brit pairing of Harriet Dart and Katie Boulter, the matches were far from easy, with six of the eight singles sets going to tiebreakers.

Boulter lead Garcia in the opening match of the tie having won the first set in a tiebreaker, before going down in the next two in the same fashion. Cornet then had to grind out an epic 8-6 first set tiebreaker against Dart, before a comparatively easier tiebreaker 7-3 to also win with back-to-back tiebreak victories. Garcia then sealed the tie with two near-perfect 6-1 sets, but still went down in the second set tiebreaker 12-10, for a scoreline of 6-1 6-7 6-1.

Garcia said it was a relief to get the tie win, and knew it was going to be a tough slog over the couple of days, having to fight hard against Dart to secure the victory.

“It was a great match, a great battle once again,” Garcia said post-match. “We knew that it was going to be a battle from the first point to the last one over two days. They proved why they did so good last year in the Finals. We had to go very deep and I had to stay focused every time. I’m very pleased with the performance. To be able to get the point for France and qualify is great.”

Though eliminated from the Finals race, British specialist doubles pairing of Alicia Barnett and Olivia Nicholls overcame world number 14 doubles player Kristina Mladenovic and rising singles talent Clara Burel in a Super Tiebreak, 7-5 3-6 11-9 to ensure the home team grabbed a win in the tie.

France joins Germany and Slovenia as other nations that missed out on qualifying 12 months ago, but have moved into the Finals this time around. Germany defeated Brazil 3-1 after coming back from an 0-1 deficit, with Jule Niemeier producing a critical win over Beatriz Haddad Maia.

Slovenia also came back from a deficit, in real strife against Romania trailing 0-2 following the opening day. After losing to their respective opponents, Tamara Zidansek and Kaja Juvan defeated Ana Bogdan and Jaqueline Cristian on day two, but the Slovenians were agonisingly close to bowing out in a sweep. Zidansek trailed by a set to Bogdan and the match went into a second set tiebreaker before the Slovenian was able to steady and grab the win. The Slovenian pair then came from behind in the doubles match against Irina Bara and Monica Niculescu to seal the tie.

Along with Great Britain. 2022 finalists who bowed out at the qualifying stage were Belgium and Poland. Belgium went down to a Leylah Fernandez-inspired Canada, with the US Open finalists winning both her singles before teaming up with doubles specialist Gabriela Dabrowski to close out the tie. For Poland, missing world number one Iga Swiatek proved too big of a loss, going down to Kazakhstan 3-1 with Wimbledon winner Elena Rybakina winning all four of her singles sets, as did Yulia Putintseva in a straight sets win over Magda Linette.

Interestingly, the United States was the only nation to whitewash a team 4-0, as Coco Gauff and Jessica Pegula made light work of Austria 4-0 at Delray Beach. In similarly one-sided affairs, Spain defeated Mexico 3-1, while Czech Republic also accounted for Ukraine 3-1, but not without an impressive win to young Ukrainian Marta Kostyuk over Barbora Krejcikova in three sets.

The closest tie of the round on par with the Slovenia-Romania match was Italy’s 3-2 win over Slovakia. A doubles win to Elisabetta Cocciaretto and Martina Trevisan sealed the victory which looked set following a 2-0 lead in the tie. But a comeback from Slovakia on day two levelled at 2-2, before the Italians made it back-to-back Billie Jean King Cup Finals appearances.

The nine qualifying nations join reigning champions Switzerland, runners-up Australia at the event, with one wildcard to be determined. As the highest ranked loser, eighth placed Slovakia would be favoured for that wildcard spot, with Kazakhstan (10th) and Romania (12th) other strong chances.

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