Great Britain’s Katie Boulter came up agonisingly short of the biggest victory of her career as world number five Caroline Garcia prevailed in an epic tussle to put France ahead in the Billie Jean King Cup qualifier in Coventry.
Boulter has shown many times that she is capable of playing well above her ranking – currently down at 154 – on the big stage and she did so again here, winning the opening set and trading blow for blow with one of the world’s best players.
Boulter, 26, also led by a break in the deciding set but was unable to hold onto her advantage as Garcia fought back to win 6-7 (2) 7-6 (4) 7-6 (2) after three hours and 26 minutes.
Britain, who went into the tie as major underdogs and with their only top-100 player, Emma Raducanu, unavailable, must win three of five matches over two days to book their spot in November’s finals week.
Boulter began the season by winning a second-tier title but has struggled for wins since while Garcia headed into 2023 on the back of winning the WTA Finals, the biggest trophy of her career.
She also helped France win this title in 2019 but Boulter did not allow her to settle, quickly finding her range with her powerful groundstrokes, and moved into a 4-2 lead.
Garcia fought back to level but Boulter pushed the set to a tie-break and outplayed her frustrated opponent to the delight of a 2,000-strong crowd at Coventry Building Society Arena.
Garcia stepped up her game early in the second set and Boulter had to dig deep to keep it to one break before pulling back to 4-4 after the French player took a medical timeout for treatment to her left foot.
She was three points away from victory at 4-4 in the tie-break but Garcia showed her quality to level the contest.
The pressure seemed to be all on Boulter at the start of the decider and she clung on grimly, saving four break points, before producing a series of piercing groundstrokes to move 3-2 ahead.
After seeing two more chances go begging, Boulter saved match points in successive games to force another tie-break – the second after a Garcia return that hit the tape before dropping back on the Frenchwoman’s side of the net.
But she was unable to capitalise on that slice of fortune, with Garcia finally making it across the line.
The Frenchwoman said: “It was a crazy match. It was a lot of up and down. Three tie-breaks just shows how tight the match was. Katie played unbelievable. I just had to fight and it played on a few points here and there.”