British doubles pair backed for further rise up the rankings after BJK Cup win

Anne Keothavong has backed Alicia Barnett and Olivia Nicholls to keep climbing the tennis ladder after their impressive Great Britain debut at the Billie Jean King Cup Finals.

Kazakhstan had already secured victory with two singles wins at the Emirates Arena in Glasgow but Barnett and Nicholls ensured the tie ended on a positive note with a 7-5 6-3 success against Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina and high-class doubles player Anna Danilina.

It could yet prove a very valuable point, although it is now out of Britain’s hands whether they have a chance of reaching the semi-finals when they take on Spain on Thursday.

Keothavong originally did not pick Barnett and Nicholls, favouring Harriet Dart and Heather Watson for doubles, but she had a rethink after Emma Raducanu withdrew through injury last week.

The GB captain said: “Watching that doubles and the energy that Liss and Liv brought to the court, how could you not feel joy? It was contagious.

“We didn’t want to go back to the hotel having lost all three rubbers. So it was big to get that win in the doubles. It was fantastic tennis out there, as well.

“I think they have justified their selection on this team more than. If they can continue to produce that kind of tennis then there’s no doubt their doubles rankings will move in the right direction next year.”

British success in men’s doubles has been a feature of the last decade but that has not been the case in the women’s game.

However, the Lawn Tennis Association has begun to put time and resources into the discipline, with Barnett and Nicholls emerging as genuine hopes.

Having started the year ranked outside 300, they are now both in the top 65 and won their first WTA Tour title in Canada in August.

Barnett is 29 and Nicholls 28 but they began their professional careers late having gone to university – Nicholls at Loughborough and Barnett in the United States – and doubles players can peak well into their 30s.

Great Britain’s Olivia Nicholls and Alicia Barnett celebrate their doubles victory in Glasgow
Great Britain’s Olivia Nicholls and Alicia Barnett celebrate their doubles victory in Glasgow (Steve Welsh/PA)

Barnett, from Gloucestershire, said: “We never take anything for granted and we never expect anything. Liv and I have worked really hard to be here and we didn’t go the conventional route.

“We went to college and we have grafted pretty hard all the way through. Nothing’s handed to (us). I think this year has been incredible. And to be selected to this team was an absolute privilege.

“(The) win was obviously just the cherry on top. We’re just really grateful to be here, and we just went out and just controlled what we could and let our results and performances speak for themselves.”

The truncated format of Billie Jean King Cup and Davis Cup makes doubles very important, with Britain’s disappointing exit in the latter in September a result of losing two close doubles matches.

Although Leon Smith has many strong doubles players at his disposal, he does not have a regular pair to pick from, which is where Barnett and Nicholls could prove extremely useful for Keothavong.

“One of our biggest strengths is knowing each other as a person inside out and each other’s games inside out,” said Norwich’s Nicholls.

“And when we are out there we literally are almost telepathic at times. We know exactly where each other is moving. If she hits there, I’m going there, and of course that helps massively.”