Tennis

Billie Jean King Cup: Great Britain loses first game to Australia

Watson is second on the list of most singles matches won by a British player in the Fed Cup/Billie Jean King Cup with 23

Great Britain will have to fight from behind to reach the Billie Jean King Cup final after Heather Watson lost the first semi-final match against Australia in Glasgow.

The 30-year-old Watson lost 6-4, 7-6 (7-3) to Storm Sanders as Great Britain attempts to reach the final for the first time since 1981.

If Harriet Dart loses to Ajla Tomljanovic in the next singles round, Australia will secure victory.

If the Briton wins, the best-of-three tie will go to a doubles decider.

Great Britain had played their previous two ties in the evening and the change to a morning start on Saturday seemed to affect Watson.

“I think I just didn’t feel as fresh as I did back then,” she said. “It’s very different to play at 10 am when we’ve had late starts.

“[But] I really enjoyed being on the court today again.”

Great Britain have been the underdogs throughout the competition and face another daunting task to reach the final after Watson’s loss.

But one thing we’ve learned about Anne Keothavong’s side this week is not to write them off.

Having initially failed to qualify for the event, they were awarded a place as host nation and put in a tough group with Spain and Kazakhstan, who are ranked higher than the British.

They had also suffered another blow before the 12-team finals began when Emma Raducanu, the 2021 US Open champion and the top-ranked British player, was ruled out with injury.

After losing to Kazakhstan on Tuesday, they could have been eliminated even before playing Spain on Thursday.

But Spain, led by former world number two Paula Badosa, won 3-0 over Kazakhstan in their opening group stage match, meaning Great Britain needed to beat them 3-0, which they did in an impressive performance that Keothavong described it as “something really special”.

Watson was brilliant in Thursday’s group tie against five-time champions Spain as the hosts reached the quarter-finals, but they were unable to reach the same level against an opponent ranked 104 places below them.

Sanders is better than his current ranking of 237 suggests, illustrated by his recent form on the ITF Tour and it has taken him to the BJK Cup Finals this week.

Starting confidently and aggressively, the 28-year-old dominated Watson from the first few exchanges and that led to a 2-1 break in the first set from which Watson was unable to recover.

The British number six, backed by raucous support from the week’s biggest crowd, broke for 2-0 in the second set but was unable to hold onto the lead as Sanders rallied to earn her fifth win of the week.

“I don’t feel like I played as well as in the first game. [against Spain]I felt a bit heavier today, I missed a lot more first serves,” said Watson, who won just 57% of his first serves.

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