Boulter stars as Great Britain book Qualifiers berth

16/04/2021 16:00

Katie Boulter secured Great Britain’s place in the 2022 Billie Jean King Cup by BNP Paribas Qualifiers after ending Mexico's spirited attempt to revive their Play-off tie

By Jamie Renton
Boulter stars as Great Britain book Qualifiers berth

Katie Boulter secured Great Britain’s place in the 2022 Billie Jean King Cup by BNP Paribas Qualifiers after bringing an end to a spirited Mexican revival in their Play-off tie at London’s National Tennis Centre on Saturday.

Marcela Zacarias had stunned Heather Watson earlier in the day to keep the visitors hopes of a remarkable victory on British soil alive, but Boulter quashed any prospect of a deciding doubles after seeing off Giuliana Olmos 6-4 6-1 to round off an impressive 3-1 triumph for the hosts.

Anne Keothavong’s British team are now just one tie-victory away from joining the elite group in the international team competition with a spot in next year’s Billie Jean King Cup Finals.

“She’s a big match player Katie Boulter,” said Keothavong afterwards. “She’s delivered in the past and she delivered again this week. I’m really proud of the performances she put in. There were a few bumps along the way, but she found a way through it and she finished strong again.”

Boulter's fine displays - straight sets wins over both Zacarias and Olmos - were certainly the story of the tie, but Mexico had plenty to show for their trip.

The day had started so promisingly for the visitors, with world No. 285 Zacarias upsetting out-of-sorts world No. 68 Heather Watson 6-3 7-6(1) for the biggest win of her career.

The 27-year-old Mexican was visibly emotional after her triumph, unsurprisingly, given that her only previous win over a Top 100 player came on home soil six years ago - when she defeated then-No. 96 Lourdes Dominguez Lino at a $50,000 ITF World Tennis Tour event in Victoria.

“I can’t believe it,” Zacarias admitted following a win that was inspired, she revealed, by watching her good friend and world No. 430 Maria Lourdes Carle upset world No. 23 Elena Rybakina during Argentina’s tie with Kazakhstan in Cordoba on Friday.

“Yesterday we were a little bit down because we lost two matches, but seeing my Argentinian friend beating a [player ranked in the] 20s in the world… I got the confidence. I knew I had to start really hard and it could go my way.”

Unfortunately for the Mexicans, that was all that went their way on Saturday.

When play finally resumed after a lengthy break (as a mark or respect during the funeral of his Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh), the hosts' star of the weekend wasted little time.

Boulter made her move in the fifth game, pulling up 0-40 on Olmos' serve and breaking at the first opportunity with a fierce forehand. Though the Mexican broke straight back, capitalising on a rare lapse in concentration, Boulter immediately re-established her advantage, rounded out the first set, and ran away with the second.  

A 66-minute triumph spoke volumes about the state of the world No. 291’s game at the moment – with Boulter's play far superior to her lowly ranking.

“I played some really good tennis today and yesterday and I’m pretty proud of the performance I put on the line,” she said.

Boulter’s win would no doubt have lifted the mood of the watching Watson, who had, by her own admission, a bad day at the office.

"I definitely didn't find my game today," admitted Watson. "Just never got going. I was positive throughout and I was thinking 'it'll turn, I'll start to find my game', but I just didn't today. I just had a bad day at the office. I gave the best with what I had, but it was far from good enough."

Errors flowed from the Brit throughout her match with Zacarias – she'd hit 40 unforced errors by the match's end - and she was broken four times in the opener before handing over the set with a backhand into the foot of the net.

Watson improved in the second, but was clearly unable to find her best level. She broke for a 3-2 lead, and served for the set at 5-4, but returned to her earlier frailties – particularly on the backhand side – as Zacarias forced her way to a tie-break.

The Mexican set up five match points with an exquisite lobbed-return, before clinching the victory on her first opportunity.

It was a performance that gave visiting captain Agustin Moreno great belief in the potential of his team to compete at this level. 

"We have become a very strong team in the Americas group," he said. "If (Renata) Zarazua is fit to join us, we know how to fight and have a more regular presence at this level of the competition. We have a fighting team, and I know we can do big things in a near future."

Boulter too, has given the Brits added belief. If she continues in this vein, Keothavong's team will be confident of securing a place in the Billie Jean King Cup Finals for the first time, whoever they come up against in February's Qualifiers.