The qualifiers stage for World Group of Billie Jean King Cup has started on Friday with 18 singles matches being played in 9 venues. The most exciting action took place in Coventry, where Great Britain takes on France. The hosts could be considered as underdog, not having any single player ranked in top 100 of WTA rankings, but it was sure that the semifinalists of last year's BJK Cup play-offs will not make it a cakewalk for the higher rated French team. It came true in first match between Katie Boutler and Caroline Garcia. The world's number 154 clinched opening set against last year's WTA YEC winner in tiebreak after 64 minutes of play. Garcia has seemingly woke up in second set, being a first player to gain a break, but Boutler managed to level the score and forced another tiebreak. This time, the 5th player from WTA rankings list occured to be better, making it into decider. Third set was a true rollercoaster. Boutler moved into the lead, gaining a break in 5th game and confirmed it but making a big hold in following game, defending 3 breakpoints. Everything was in the hands of hosts' representative, but Garcia done what she need to turn this match over, leveling the score in 8th game. The following games were an intense battle with multiple deuces and breakpoints. Boulter survived the war of nerves, defending matchpoints during on serve in 10th and 12th game. Despite forcing another, decisive tiebreak, the Brit needed to recognize the supremacy of the favourite, coming up short 2-7 there. Whole the match ended up after 3:29 hours.
“It was a crazy match. Three and half hours or something, that is pretty rare in tennis in three sets. It was a lot of up and down. Three tie-breaks shows how tight the match was. Katie played unbelievable. She is a great player. I am sure she can do so much good in tennis. I just had to fight, it was played on a few points here and there.” - said Caroline Garcia in post-match interview, praising the opponent. Katie Boutler has also shared her thoughts after gracious defeat - "I am always going to put everything that I have into every single match for my country. It means everything to me and so much more. Obviously I am going to take that one to heart and it is really going to hurt. But I also know the level that I am playing at right now. I just hope I can use the momentum and keep things going.”
It was not the end of emotions, as Alize Cornet and Harriet Dart delivered another thrilling battle. Cornet won 7-6(6) 7-6(3) in the match which took 2:28 hours despite being just a two-setter. Dart was trying to make up the gap for the team and was close to win first set after being a break up, but Cornet did well to recover and force a tiebreak, where she won 8-6. Second set did not bring any breaks, and same as before, ended up on favour of French team who moved into 2-0 lead at the end of the day. The hosts will need a big come back tomorrow, but despite of the outcome, it was great fight took up by the British team on Friday.
Germany fights a good battle against Brazil on Stuttgart's clay. Both singles matches ended up in three-setters and the result of tie is 1-1 after day one. Beatriz Haddad Maia opened the score for guests, winning again Anna Lena Friedsam as expected, but the German made it a tough task for world's number 14. Friedsam won first set 6-3, which made Haddad Maia to make up for the losses, which she did well, scoring first point for Brazilian team after 2,5 hours of play with a score 3-6 6-4 6-3. Laura Pigossi had a chance to build a big advantage for guests in her match against Tatiana Maria. Both players shared two sets between them, and Pigossi was leading with a break in third one, but failed to serve for the win within a score *5-4. Maria broke her opponent for the first time in third set leveling the score, and added another one in 12th game, scoring the precious equalizer for the Germans.
The tie between Slovenia and Romania was expected to be a tight battle without clear favorites and it also delivered two interesting three-setters, which ended succesfully for the guests, as Romania leads 2-0 after Friday's play. Ana Bogdan defeated Kaja Juvan 3-6 6-3 6-4, while Jaqueline Cristian extended the gap, making an upset on Tamara Zidansek, defeating the host 6-1 4-6 6-3.
Canada will need to make a good effort in Vancouver's tie against Belgium. Leylah Fernandez made her job done against Yanina Vickmayer, opening the score for hosts with a confident 6-0 6-3 win, but Rebecca Marino got upset by Ysaline Bonaventure. The Canadian won first set, which was highlighted by break gained in 2nd game after 11 (!) deuces and 5 setpoints needed by Marino to clinched this set. Second set started also comfortably for Marino, who was set to win by leading 4-1 with a break advantage. Then, the turnover happened, as Bonaventure won 5 games in a row forcing a decider, where the Belgian followed the blow and surprisingly equalized the tie's score with a 4-6 6-4 6-4 win.
All the other ties did not bring any surprises. The top singles racquets of USA, Kazakhstan, Czech Republic, Spain and Italy made their job done and assured a comfortable 2-0 lead for their teams after first day of play with a big probability of celebrating the advance into BJK Cup finals tomorrow.