Britain remain at elite level of BJK Cup with victory over under-strength Sweden

Wins for Katie Boulter and Harriet Dart ensured Great Britain avoided Billie Jean King Cup embarrassment against Sweden at London’s Copper Box.

Dart replaced Jodie Burrage following her nightmare debut in the competition on Saturday and the 27-year-old claimed the decisive point in a 3-1 victory that keeps Anne Keothavong’s side at the elite level of the competition.

Given Sweden were without their top two players and did not have anyone ranked inside 350 to call on, defeat – particularly on home soil – was unthinkable.

Ultimately they recovered well from Burrage’s collapse against Kajsa Rinaldo Persson, with Boulter overcoming some difficult moments in a 6-1 7-6 (5) win over the same player for her second win of the weekend before Dart defeated Caijsa Hennemann 7-5 6-2.

It was no surprise to see Keothavong opt for the greater experience of Dart ahead of Burrage, who will hope that she is given another chance to prove herself in 2024.

Boulter has established herself as the clear British number one this season and it was appropriate she ended her year by playing the leading role for her country at the same venue where in 2019 she suffered a serious back injury that badly stalled her progress.

It was not until earlier this season that she finally returned to the top 100, and this time she has built on the breakthrough while avoiding injury, currently sitting at 58 in the rankings.

Katie Boulter hits a backhand in her win over Kajsa Rinaldo Persson
Katie Boulter hits a backhand in her win over Kajsa Rinaldo Persson (Zac Goodwin/PA)

“It’s been a whirlwind for many different reasons,” the 27-year-old said. “I think the work I’ve put in the last 10 years has really started to show.

“You never know when you’re going to get your little break. I finally got one this year and I felt like I used that momentum continuing from the grass-court season into the hard-court swing as well and I think that’s the part I’m most proud of.

“I sit here and I can say I love the grass and I love playing in England and I love the British crowd but it’s the other tournaments around the rest of the year that make the difference and that’s what’s going to keep my ranking at the highest point.

“I’ve really stepped it up this year in consistency. I know it’s an uphill battle next year and I’m excited for it, it’s a challenge and it’s somewhere I haven’t been before.”

Harriet Dart celebrates winning a point against Caijsa Hennemann
Harriet Dart celebrates winning a point against Caijsa Hennemann (Zac Goodwin/PA)

Boulter did not have things all her own way against Persson, who again played well above her ranking of 372.

The Swede had four chances to send the contest to a decider when she served for the second set at 5-3, but Boulter saved them all and finished the tie-break strongly.

Dart was the star of last year’s run to the semi-finals of the competition in Glasgow but she has endured a difficult season, dropping outside the top 100.

She will remember her win over Hennemann more for the significance than the performance, but she was solid in seeing off the world number 532 and looked emotional as she celebrated with her team-mates.

The British team celebrate their victory
The British team celebrate their victory (Zac Goodwin/PA)

“It’s huge,” said Dart, who is heading off to Asia on Monday morning for three tournaments in a bid to boost her ranking and secure direct entry for the Australian Open.

“To be able to represent GB is always a huge honour but also to be able to play a tie in London is so special. I’m a Londoner so to be in front of all my friends and family is extra special.

“To be able to win the rubber that means we’ve won the tie is obviously huge and I really enjoyed every minute out there.”

The triumph means Britain move forward to April’s qualifiers, where victory would see them reach the finals week by right for the first time.

“It’s great that we got the job done,” said Keothavong. “There may have been a few bumps along the way but we did what was necessary today.”

Meanwhile, at the finals in Seville, Canada secured their first Billie Jean King Cup title with a 2-0 victory over Italy.

Teenager Marina Stakusic, who is ranked down at 258 and has been the surprise package of the week, defeated Martina Trevisan 7-5 6-3 before Leylah Fernandez saw off Jasmine Paolini 6-2 6-3.

It completes a notable double for Canada, who were also Davis Cup champions for the first time last year.