Watson & Boulter put GB in control

April 24, 2021
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    Billie Jean King Cup play-off: Great Britain v Mexico
    Venue: National Tennis Centre, Roehampton Dates: 16-17 April
    Coverage: Watch live coverage on BBC Red Button and BBC Sport website & app (Friday 14:00-18:00 BST; Saturday 11:30-1500 and 16:15-19:00)

    Heather Watson and Katie Boulter put Great Britain in control of their Billie Jean King Cup play-off against Mexico with convincing wins.

    Boulter was tested early in a 7-5 6-0 win over Marcela Zacarias before Watson beat Giuliana Olmos 7-5 6-1 to send the hosts 2-0 up in the best-of-five tie.

    The tie at the National Tennis Centre in Roehampton resumes on Saturday with the reverse singles.

    Victory would put Great Britain one win from qualifying for the 2022 Finals.

    "I don't think I could have asked for anything more," GB captain Anne Keothavong said.

    "It was a fantastic performance from Katie and Heather. Both came through tough first sets but, once they were able to relax and find their groove, they finished strong and that's what matters."

    The Billie Jean King Cup is the new name for the Fed Cup, the women's international team event that Great Britain have finished runners-up in four times but have never won.

    There are two reverse singles and one doubles rubber scheduled for Saturday with Watson able to wrap up the tie if she beats Zacarias in the opening match of the day (11:30 BST).

    Watson overcomes early nerves

    With British number one Johanna Konta missing while she manages a long-standing knee problem, the experienced Watson is the highest ranked player in the tie at 68th in the world.

    There was a gulf of 366 places in the ranking between her and Olmos, which was not reflected in a tight opening set where they traded breaks in four of the first five games.

    Watson used her powerful forehand to great effect to create set points on the Mexican's serve, wrapping it up with a forehand winner.

    A break in the fourth game of the second set, which included a beautiful angled forehand at the net that found the line, proved key as Watson stretched ahead and converted the first of her two match points when Olmos returned a serve long.

    "It was a bit of nerves, I want to do my country proud," said Watson, who has now won 30 of her 43 matches in the competition.

    "In the second set I started to feel more comfortable, I came into the net more. I'm feeling very happy and I can't wait for tomorrow."

    katie boulterKatie Boulter reached a career-high ranking of 82 in 2019 before injury derailed her progress

    Boulter's early win & team-mates' tambourines

    The atmosphere could not have been more different to Boulter's last Fed Cup appearance two years ago where she secured the winning point in a play-off against Kazakhstan at a packed and raucous Copper Box Arena in London.

    Here it was her team-mates and the coaching staff who did their best to create some noise behind closed doors, with Katie Swan and Jodie Burrage on their feet shaking red tambourines in between points.

    Boulter made a slow start, losing her opening service game before breaking back in the fourth game.

    She displayed her trademark grit to save two break points with some well-placed serves to go 6-5 up and sealed the set when Zacarias netted a backhand.

    From then on the Briton did not look back, finding depth and speed on her shots to race through a 26-minute second set, claiming victory on her third match point with a powerful cross-court backhand winner.

    "Initially I was a little bit nervous," said Boulter, who is ranked six places below her opponent at 291 in the world but was in the top 100 two years ago before a back injury aggravated in the Fed Cup sidelined her for a lengthy spell.

    "It was a really close first set and I managed to squeeze it through and that really helped me relax and so going into the second set I played some really good tennis."

    Jodie Burrage and Katie Swan with tambourinesTeam-mates Jodie Burrage and Katie Swan helped proceedings with a different kind of racket

    Ukraine & Canada in command of ties

    Great Britain's encounter with Mexico is one of eight play-offs taking place this weekend.

    World number five Elina Svitolina put Ukraine ahead against Japan with a 6-3 6-2 victory over Chihiro Muramatsu before Marta Kostyuk extended their lead with a 6-3 6-3 win against Yuki Naito.

    Canada lead Serbia 2-0 after wins for Rebecca Marino and 18-year-old Leylah Annie Fernandez, while Italy are similarly in charge against Romania, who are without two-time Grand Slam champion Simona Halep because of a shoulder injury.

    Poland and Brazil are level at 1-1, while the Netherlands – whose team includes world number 11 Kiki Bertens – and China also have one win apiece going into the deciding day.

    In the other ties, Argentina are drawing 1-1 with Kazakhstan and Latvia lead India 2-0.

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