Britain’s chances of an improbable run on home soil at the Billie Jean King Cup Finals took a significant blow on Tuesday night as they were outmatched by a strong Kazakhstan team, going down to an irretrievable 2-0 scoreline in their first tie at the Emirates Arena in Glasgow.
In the opening encounter, Yulia Putintseva recovered from a set down before neutralising Katie Boulter and easing through 4-6, 6-3, 6-2. Elena Rybakina then put the tie to bed with ease, overpowering Harriet Dart 6-1, 6-4 and marking her return to Britain for the first time since winning Wimbledon with a victory.
Of the two singles rubbers, the first match between the two second-ranked players always presented the bigger chance for Britain. Putintseva began as the clear favourite, but Boulter has built a reputation for rising to the bigger occasions at home. She arrived in Glasgow with a 9-1 win-loss record in the BJK Cup, a tight three-set loss to Putintseva her only defeat.
Boulter started confidently, restricting Putintseva with her greater weight of shot. But Putintseva slowly began to dig in and impose herself. She tested Boulter’s rally tolerance with the long exchanges that followed and she exposed her movement, peppering Boulter with drop shots and prodding her from side to side. From the middle of the second set, Putintseva took control of the match and comfortably moved to victory.
Since breaking through to win her first grand slam title at Wimbledon, Rybakina’s progress has not been entirely smooth but she played an excellent match on Tuesday night. From the beginning, she served well and hammered the ball from inside the baseline. Despite fighting hard to stay in touch throughout the second set, Dart simply did not have sufficient weight of shot to keep up.
Glasgow marks the second year of the Billie Jean King Cup under its new “finals” knockout format, with 12 nations convening in one city rather than the traditional home and away ties. The opening day was an underwhelming spectacle, with the home team attracting a sparse, tepid crowd at the Emirates Arena.
The defeat leaves Britain in a difficult position. They will face a Spanish team headed by the world No 13 Paula Badosa on Thursday, needing a win to give themselves a chance of advancing to the semi-final from Group C. However, Kazakhstan and Spain play each other on Wednesday and a second win for Kazakhstan would knock Britain out before they return to the court.