Katie Boulter backed “tough cookie” Jodie Burrage to bounce back from her nightmare Billie Jean King Cup debut.
Burrage has established herself as British number two this season and her first call-up for her country was long awaited but she collapsed under the weight of the occasion, losing 12 of the last 13 games against Sweden’s Kajsa Rinaldo Persson, who is ranked nearly 300 places lower than her.
The 6-4 6-1 scoreline was all the more disappointing given Burrage won the opening four games, and it put Britain in a difficult spot in a tie for which they are overwhelming favourites.
They ended the first day at London’s Copper Box level at 1-1 thanks to Boulter, who produced another convincing display in the competition, beating Caijsa Hennemann 6-2 6-1.
Boulter said of her good friend’s disappointment: “It’s part of tennis. There’s always going to be matches that we win and some that we lose and I think how you pick yourself up is what’s going to define you.
“She’s a tough cookie, I can assure you, she’s been through a lot of surgeries, she’s been through a lot of tough moments and she knows how to pick herself up.
“The girl played very, very well and we’ve got a battle going into tomorrow. They’re going to have a swing, they’ve got no pressure at all. We’re going to fight our little hearts out for it.”
Rankings often are not a great indicator of success in this competition and Burrage is far from the first player to fail to handle the occasion, but even by those standards this was some collapse.
She made 23 unforced errors in the first set alone, often missing by feet rather than inches as Persson reeled off eight games in a row.
Burrage fought back tears as she said: “I’m very proud to represent my country, I’m very disappointed that I didn’t get everyone a win today. That is going to stick with me for a while.
“It’s tough to take. I have not felt like this, and even the nerves before, ever, even stepping out onto Centre Court doesn’t compare to this.
“It’s so different when you’re playing for a team. That type of pressure I’ve never really understood before, and I don’t think you ever do until you do it. That’s why it hurts even more because I’m hurting for other people.”
Whether Burrage gets a chance to make amends on Sunday must be highly questionable, with captain Anne Keothavong also able to call upon the more experienced Harriet Dart or Heather Watson.
“Jodie’s earned the right to go out there,” said Keothavong. “She’s had a fantastic year. It’s going to be a tough one for her to take but she’s got to find a way to bounce back if she’s going to keep putting herself in positions for selection.
“As a former player, I feel for her. That court can feel really small. For that to happen in front of a home crowd, it’s a tough one for her to take, but she will bounce back and she will learn from this.”
Britain must win two of the three rubbers on Sunday to secure victory and maintain their position at the elite level of the competition.
Swedish captain Johanna Larsson, who is without her top two players because of injury, was quick to emphasise that all the pressure is on Britain.
“I would expect her to say that, and she’s right,” said Keothavong. “We’ve got some work to do tomorrow. Tonight we have to keep the positivity high and remember why we’re all here.”
Britain’s youngsters lost in the semi-finals of the Junior Billie Jean King Cup to the Czech Republic, but there will be no double for the Czechs, who were upset by Canada in the senior finals in Seville.
Massive win for Canada to reach their first Billie Jean King Cup Final!
— Billie Jean King Cup (@BJKCup) November 11, 2023
The powerhouses of the women’s game looked heavy favourites among the last four but Leylah Fernandez, runner-up to Emma Raducanu at the US Open in 2021, produced two brilliant performances.
After Barbora Krejcikova put the Czechs ahead, Fernandez defeated Wimbledon champion Marketa Vondrousova in singles and then teamed up with Gabriela Dabrowski to see off the formidable pair of Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova in the deciding doubles.
Canada are through to the final for the first time, where they will take on Italy, who defeated Slovenia thanks to singles victories for Martina Trevisan and Jasmine Paolini.