Harriet Dart produced more Billie Jean King Cup heroics to draw Great Britain level against Australia and set up a deciding doubles rubber in the semi-final in Glasgow.
After the high of their unexpected and hugely impressive victory over Spain on Thursday to make the last four for the first time since 1981, a 6-4 7-6 (3) loss for Heather Watson against Storm Sanders left Anne Keothavong’s side in the last-chance saloon again.
But Dart, who claimed one of the best victories of her career against 13th-ranked Paula Badosa, delighted the sizeable crowd at the Emirates Arena by defeating 33rd-ranked Ajla Tomljanovic.
Twenty-nine-year-old Tomljanovic, who sent Serena Williams into retirement at the US Open and has had the best season of her career, was Dart’s third big-hitting opponent of the week.
She started slowly, though, and Dart took full advantage, picking up where she left off against Badosa and powering into a 3-0 lead.
Tomljanovic found her range but the British number two kept her nose in front until she served for the set at 5-3, when the pressure on her serve told.
She missed a set point on Tomljanovic’s serve in the next game but the Australian, who has been fighting off a reputation as a player who struggles at the big moments, faltered badly in the tie-break.
A tally of 17 winners to five in favour of Dart showed showed how well the 26-year-old had played, and she made the perfect start to the second set with another break.
Tomljanovic looked frustrated and a slew of errors gave Dart another break for 4-1, from where there was no way back.
Watson denied feeling the pressure of expectation against a player ranked significantly lower and instead said the early start to the match – Britain had previously played in the evening – had affected her.
But, whatever the reason, it was clear from the start this was not the same Watson from Thursday, who had barely missed a ball in a 6-0 6-2 pasting of Nuria Parrizas Diaz.
Sanders has never made the top 100 and is ranked down at 237 but at her best is clearly a much better player than that and she had claimed two confident singles wins this week.
She is also a top-10 doubles player and immediately put Watson under pressure, breaking serve in the third game and using intelligent tactics to stop her opponent finding any rhythm.
Sanders took a medical timeout at the end of the first set for treatment to her right hip area and initially appeared to be in some discomfort, but Watson missed a chance to move 3-0 ahead in the second and from there the Australian resumed her ascendancy.
“I’m really disappointed that I wasn’t able to get the result that I wanted today for the team, but I gave it my best,” said Watson. “It was still a good match.”
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