'We had to go very deep': France earn Finals return

15/04/2023 00:00

Caroline Garcia clinched France's spot in the 2023 Billie Jean King Cup by Gainbridge Finals at the expense of Great Britain with a three-set triumph over Harriet Dart on Saturday

By Jamie Renton
'We had to go very deep': France earn Finals return

Caroline Garcia fired France into the 2023 Billie Jean King Cup by Gainbridge Finals at the expense of Great Britain with a three-set triumph over Harriet Dart on Saturday.

The world No. 5 had put in a tremendous shift in overcoming Katie Boulter in three hours and 26 minutes in Friday's opening match at the Coventry Building Society Arena and, handed the chance to win the tie at the first attempt on Saturday following Alize Cornet’s victory over Dart, she delivered once again.

It required another resilient effort from the French No. 1 to complete the job though, as she fended off a Dart fightback to win 6-1 6-7 6-1 in an hour and 56 minutes and earn the visitors an unassailable 3-0 lead.

“It was a great match, a great battle once again,” said Garcia. “We knew that it was going to be a battle from the first point to the last one over two days.”

The Brits were always the underdogs for this contest given the sizeable gulf in rankings between Dart (the world No. 138), Boulter (No. 154) and world No. 5 Garcia and No. 70 Cornet, but Anne Keothavong’s team relish big stage opportunities on home soil, and they went toe-to-toe with France throughout.

Home hopes of a repeat of the heroics they displayed in reaching the semi-finals of this competition last November in Glasgow didn’t diminish until Garcia served out the winning point.

“They proved why they did so good last year in the Finals,” Garcia said. “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.”

France had looked on enviously at the British exploits during last year’s Finals (when the hosts beat Kazakhstan and Spain and only narrowly missed out on a place in the title match after losing to Australia), so they were determined to win a place back amongst the elite group of nations this November.

“It was the main goal,” said French captain Julien Benneteau. “I told them at the beginning of the year and the beginning of the week that the focus is to qualify again for the Finals. We have to be there. I think we deserve to be there. We are very pleased, happy and now we are waiting for November.”

Are there big celebrations in store before they head back across the channel, then?

“Yes,” grinned Benneteau. “For some players it will be more quiet than for the staff, some of the players have to play tournaments next week. But I’m off next week and some staff members are also, so tonight we are going to taste some British beers!”

For Great Britain, defeat means another home-or-away tie in November’s play-offs, eyeing a victory that would allow them to compete for a place in the Finals again in 2024. Despite the backward step, Keothavong says her team have much to be proud of.

“[France] fielded their strongest team and that’s out of respect for the team that we have,” said the British captain. “I’m proud of the players. They gave it their best against much higher ranked opponents and there were chances…

“That’s what we have to remember. Yesterday, Boults, to play three tie-break sets against the world No. 5 and have chances… there really wasn’t much in it at all.

“Same with Harriet against Cornet… it could have gone either way.

“They should feel proud of themselves," she added. "It hasn’t been the easiest of years for any of our players on our team. They’ve gone out there and shown what they’re capable of. It’s important that they’re able to take the good stuff that they get from these weeks into future tournaments and continue to build on their seasons.”