Great Britain lose to Czech Republic in Prague

Great Britain were unable to secure their place in the Billie Jean King Cup finals as Harriet Dart and Katie Swan lost the decisive doubles match against the Czech Republic.

With the best-of-five tie locked at 2-2, Czech pair Marketa Vondrousova and Karolina Muchova sealed victory with a 6-1 7-5 win on the Prague clay.

Earlier, Dart beat Linda Fruhvirtova 6-0 5-7 6-2 to keep the tie alive.

That came after British number one Emma Raducanu lost 6-1 6-1 to Vondrousova.

US Open champion Raducanu was unable to cope with 2019 French Open runner-up Vondrousova’s excellent clay-court game and the 19-year-old Briton was also hampered by a blister on her foot.

Relive Great Britain’s BJK Cup tie in the Czech Republic
With Raducanu sitting out the crucial doubles, Dart played alongside British number six Swan.

The pair fought back from 4-1 down to 4-4 in the second set, but were unable to force a decider as Muchova and Vondrousova – who dropped just nine games on the way to winning all three of her matches in the tie – took control once again.

The Czech pair won the deciding doubles to clinch a 3-2 victory for their nation and ensure they qualify for November’s 12-team finals.

Britain, who had a new-look team in the absence of recently-retired Johanna Konta and the unavailable Heather Watson, will face a play-off tie during the same week.

However, Britain are among the countries bidding to stage the finals and could also still qualify as the host nation.

Raducanu hampered by more physical problems
Captain Anne Keothavong’s team were the huge underdogs going into the tie, with the hosts having a depth of talent and great pedigree in this event.

Even without big-name trio Barbora Krejcikova, Karolina Pliskova and Petra Kvitova, the Czechs were in a strong position after Raducanu lost to Vondrousova in Saturday’s first singles rubber.

Raducanu, playing in only her second senior clay-court match after beating Tereza Martincova on Friday, was aiming to put Britain into the lead for the first time and give the momentum to her young side.

But the world number 12 came up against a wily opponent in Vondrousova, who is a natural on the surface and has proved that with her results.

Raducanu was unable to cope with her opponent’s variety and court-craft in a one-sided first set, which lasted just 26 minutes.

The Briton needed to go off court before the start of the second set for treatment on a blister on her right foot and struggled to move properly when the match resumed.

Vondrousova, ranked 32nd in the world, moved 2-0 ahead but then seemed unsettled by Raducanu’s lack of movement and lost concentration.

Raducanu was gifted a break back, only for the Czech to refocus and win the next four games to seal victory in 62 minutes.

Dart typifies British fight as ‘underdogs’ force decider
Experienced Czech captain Petr Pala made a shock move by picking 16-year-old Fruhvirtova to play against Dart instead of world number 50 Martincova.

Dart suffered a heavy defeat by Vondrousova on Friday but showed no signs of any scars as she made a confident start against Fruhvirtova.

The 25-year-old Londoner, who broke into the world’s top 100 recently after reaching the fourth round at Indian Wells, asserted her authority and eased to the opening set in 29 minutes.

When she moved into a 3-0 and 40-0 lead in the second set, the manner of victory looked as though it would be routine.

Even though Fruhvirtova managed to hold serve in that game, Dart still had the chance to serve out herself at 5-2 but was unable to take her first match point before going on to be broken for 5-3.

Another match point came Dart’s way in the ninth game, only for Fruhvirtova to show further resistance.

The Czech held and then won the next three games – with Dart showing her frustration by throwing her racquet – to force a deciding set.

At the start of the third, Dart again showed her ability to reset and moved 5-0 in front before eventually serving out victory at the fourth attempt in the match.

“I definitely think I gave my team a little bit of a heart attack,” said Dart.

“It’s natural that I was a bit nervous to try and close it out. I was happy that I was able to reset after the second set. I’m really proud of myself to get through.”

Russell Fuller, BBC tennis correspondent

Emma Raducanu, Harriet Dart and Katie Swan showed plenty of fight over the two days to make the scoreline closer than expected, but even with four star players missing, the Czechs just had too many talented options.

Great Britain will next be in action in November, either in a play-off tie or as hosts of the finals. The Lawn Tennis Association expects a decision on the venue for the event before the end of May.

Minds are now turning to the French Open, with Raducanu still hopeful of being able to play in the clay-court tournament in Stuttgart next week even though her blisters need regular bathing in surgical spirit.

Blisters on her hands and feet, as well as a hip injury and a stiff back, have all held the 19-year-old back this season.

The optimum training schedule is still under construction, and like any other athlete in the early stage of a career, Raducanu’s body is not yet sufficiently tuned to the rigours of weekly competition.

What happened elsewhere?
Poland also booked their place in the finals for the first time when world number one Iga Swiatek won 6-0 6-0 against Romania’s Andreea Prisacariu.

The 20-year-old, who rose to the top of the rankings after Ashleigh Barty’s retirement, secured a 3-0 win for the Poles with her 19th consecutive match victory.

Kazakhstan will also make their finals debut after a surprising victory over Germany, while Italy and Spain qualified after taking unassailable 3-0 leads in their ties against France and the Netherlands.

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