Katie Boulter scored Great Britain’s equalizer in the Billie Jean King Cup play-off against Sweden after a nervous Jodie Burrage endured a nightmarish debut.
The 24-year-old seemed to have found her feet when she opened up a 4-0 lead against Kajsa Rinaldo Persson, ranked almost 300 places lower, in the first game at London’s Copper Box, but then she lost eight games in a row and collapsed a 6:4 6:1 defeat.
Great Britain came in as clear favorites to win and remain at the elite level of the competition, while Sweden was without its two top-ranked players due to injury.
And they should still find a way forward after Boulter once again proved he is a force to be reckoned with by beating 532nd-ranked Caijsa Hennemann 6-2 6-1 to leave the tie at 1-1 ahead of the final day on Sunday, where two more wins are needed to secure overall victory.
It is highly questionable whether Burrage will have another chance, as captain Anne Keothavong can also rely on the more experienced Harriet Dart or Heather Watson.
Rankings are often not a good indicator of success in this competition and Burrage is far from the first player to fail to rise to the occasion, but even by those standards this was quite a collapse.
She made 23 unforced errors in the first set alone, often missing by feet rather than inches as Persson’s comeback gained momentum, and lost 12 of the last 13 games.
The occasion was a long time coming for Burrage, who was unhappy about being left out of the final two teams and fought back tears as she said, “This event is unlike anything else in tennis.”
“I am very proud to represent my country. I’m very disappointed that I didn’t give everyone a win today. This will stay with me for a while.
“It’s hard to bear. I have never felt like this before and even the nervousness before entering Center Court cannot be compared to this.
“It’s so different when you play for a team. I’ve never really understood that kind of pressure, and I don’t think you ever understand it until you do it. That’s why it hurts even more because I feel sorry for other people.”
Boulter spoke of a turning point on Friday after she finally made it back into the top 100 this season, four years after the back injury she sustained while leading Great Britain to victory over Kazakhstan at the same venue that left her for more than six years excluded months.
There were never any concerns about the 27-year-old’s ability to impress on the big stage and although Hennemann, like Persson, played well above her ranking, Boulter was able to overwhelm her from the back of the pitch.
The world number 58 extended the lead early in both sets, saving all five break points she faced.