France 1-3 Great Britain: ‘We came, we performed’

13/04/2024 15:21

Emma Raducanu and Katie Boulter have led Great Britain to a brilliant victory over France in their Billie Jean King Cup Qualifier in Le Portel

By Matt Roberts
France 1-3 Great Britain: ‘We came, we performed’
With the tie level at 1-1 after the opening day, Boulter beat Clara Burel 7-5 6-0 before Raducanu sealed victory by coming back to defeat Diane Parry 4-6 6-1 7-6(1) in an absolute thriller, booking Britain’s spot in November’s Finals in Seville. 
“It’s going to take a lot of work to try and wipe this smile off my face”, beamed captain Anne Keothavong. “What a day, the atmosphere was just rocking, Katie and Emma came to play and put in some fantastic performances against tough opposition.” 
“I’m just so chuffed for the team. We came here and we knew it was going to be difficult. But we came, we performed, and we’re all leaving with a big smile.” 
Victory is perhaps all the sweeter because it’s a slice of revenge for Britain after France won on British soil in Coventry at this exact stage of the competition last year. 
This time, with the home crowd against them and the clay beneath their feet, the British team kept insisting that they felt like even bigger underdogs. And when France won the first three sets of this tie - with scores of 6-2 6-0 and 6-3 - and led by a break in the fourth set, that feeling was only exacerbated. But Raducanu’s inspired comeback against Garcia on Friday gave the side momentum and they carried it through to Saturday’s singles. 
Boulter set the tone by bouncing back from the chastening experience she suffered on the opening day. In her first tour-level match on clay, she lost 12 games in a row against Parry, but Keothavong kept the faith and was rewarded by a gritty, quality performance from Boulter. 
French captain Julien Benneteau, meanwhile, threw in a curveball by replacing their No.1, Caroline Garcia, with the less experienced Burel. It was a decision that didn’t pay off. 
Boulter’s victory was built on a staggering 72-minute first set, which defied the usual rules of momentum as both players kept recovering from improbable positions. There was an extraordinary 20-minute, nine-deuce tussle on Boulter’s serve as the Brit saved five break points to move 4-3 ahead. Despite all those missed opportunities there was no hangover for Burel as she quickly held serve and then broke Boulter to love. 
That was when the scales tipped back the other way, with Boulter reeling off three straight games to take the set. There was one particularly staggering shot - which we shall call a ‘reflex lob volley’ - to bring up set point, and then a barrage of forehands to seal it. 
Pocketing that set seemed to free Boulter up and in the second set you could tell the confidence was flowing as she broke at the first time of asking with a deft drop shot. By the time the moment of victory came, she had won nine games in a row, completely banishing the demons from Friday. 
“I kind of lost my identity yesterday”, Boulter admitted. “I wasn’t going after my shots, I was trying to play like a stereotypical clay courter, and I don’t have that game in the bag. I just have to remember that my game is to hit the ball, go after it, and play big. 
“It’s a really crucial point that I wanted get on the board and I’m very happy with myself that I did.” 
Boulter’s victory set the stage for Raducanu and the former US Open champion delivered. But she had to work hard for it. 
The first set was nip and tuck all the way and perhaps ultimately came down to Raducanu’s decision to stop a point mid rally when she was serving to stay in the set. It was the wrong decision and gave Parry the impetus she needed to take the lead. 
At the start of the second set, Raducanu came through a mammoth service game, and then her return game suddenly caught fire. Much like she did against Garcia on Friday, she began to step in and dominate the rallies. It was a tactical switch that swung the momentum in her favour. By the time she was 40-0 up in the first game of the final set, she had won 17 points in a row.
A brief lapse in concentration saw Parry break in that game, but Raducanu soon took over once again. 
Serving for the match at 5-3, there was yet more drama. Parry saved a couple of match points, including one with a perfect forehand passing shot, and then broke. At 5-5, Raducanu faced two more break points and suddenly everything looked to be slipping away. But she came through that game and then played a flawless tiebreak to finally get over the line. 
It marks the first time that Britain have won a Billie Jean King Cup tie on clay since April 2007, when Raducanu was four years old. 
And Keothavong knows this team is capable of even more, starting in Seville. 
“It’s incredible because two years ago we were the host nation of the Finals. We were the wildcard entry but we still made the semifinals and that was a fantastic week for the team. But on this occasion we’ve qualified ourselves. The players have done it, the team have worked together really well, and we deserve our spot there.” 
That’s where I believe this team belongs. The girls are all hungry to go out there and perform. They’ve got a lot of things to do before then, but why not, it’s all to play for!” 

Highlights: Burel (FRA) v Boulter (GBR)