Great Britain fell agonizingly short of a fifth Billie Jean King Cup final appearance as victory in a decisive doubles playoff in Glasgow sent Australia into the trophy match.
Playing in their first semi-final in 41 years after Thursday’s remarkable shutout of Spain, Anne Keothavong’s side had high hopes of emulating Sue Barker and Virginia Wade, who last led Great Britain to the final in 1981.
Heather Watson lost the opening match 6-4 7-6(3) to Storm Sanders, but Harriet Dart followed up her win over 13th-ranked Paula Badosa by defeating world champion Ajla Tomljanovic 7-6(3) 6-2 to take her to the final. cable.
Doubles duo Alicia Barnett and Olivia Nicholls were the revelation of the week for the hosts in their international debut but were unable to conjure up a third win, losing 7-6(1) 6-7(5)(10-6) to the impressive Sanders and Sam Stosur.
Cheered on by the best crowd of the tournament at the Emirates Arena, Barnett and Nicholls had their chances, taking two set points at 6-5 in the first set after recovering from a break.
Barnett then lost serve for the second set, but they battled through a tense tiebreaker, aided by some shocking misses from Stosur, to force a 10-point first decider.
The British pair rallied from 3-6 down to level but the Aussies finished on four straight points to book their place against either Switzerland or the Czech Republic on Sunday.
While the loss will sting the British team, they have far exceeded expectations and there should be optimism, especially if Emma Raducanu can balance herself next season, that this need not be an isolated thing.
Dart, in particular, will leave Glasgow believing she can raise her ranking well above her current 98, having faced three of the world’s best batsmen and beaten two of them.
Dart made the most of a slow start by Tomljanovic, who sent Serena Williams into retirement at the US Open, picked up where she left off against Badosa and took a 5-2 lead.
She was unable to serve out the set and missed a set point at 5-4, but played much better in the tiebreaker against her faltering opponent.
Dart had been ahead throughout and continued to hit the ball with terrific authority, wearing down Tomljanovic and scoring another standout win.
Playing at number one in the absence of the injured Raducanu, Dart relished the occasion, saying: “It’s a bit wild. Growing up, he dreamed of being on the team and representing my country. Honestly, it’s a great honor to be able to be here, let alone play as the number one player.
“I’ve been very happy with the way I’ve had good performances.”
Watson denied feeling the pressure of expectation against a player ranked more than 100 places lower in singles, instead saying the early start to the match (Great Britain had previously played in the evening) affected her.
But, whatever the reason, from the beginning it was clear that it was not the same Watson who had barely missed a ball in a 6-0, 6-2 thrashing of Nuria Parrizas Díaz.
Sanders played well above his individual ranking of 237, using clever tactics to keep his opponent from finding a rhythm.
She took a medical timeout late in the first set for treatment to her right hip area and initially seemed to have some discomfort, but Watson missed the chance to move 3-0 up in the second and from there the Aussie resumed her ascendancy. .
“I’m really disappointed that I couldn’t get the result I wanted for the team today, but I did my best,” Watson said. “It was still a good match.”