Great Britain’s hopes of making the Billie Jean King Cup Finals ended with another battling defeat for Harriet Dart against Caroline Garcia, sealing victory for France.
The visitors went into the second day at the Coventry Building Society Arena in full control after the narrowest of wins on Friday for Garcia against Katie Boulter and Alize Cornet over Dart.
Having needed nearly three-and-a-half hours to battle her way past Boulter, world number five Garcia looked set for an easy afternoon when she wrapped up the first set in less than 30 minutes.
Dart gave the capacity 2,200-strong crowd something to cheer by holding her own in the second set and saved two match points to win a tense tie-break – the sixth set in the tie to go the distance.
The British number three was aiming to produce the same heroics she did in Glasgow last November when Britain unexpectedly reached the semi-finals for the first time in more than 40 years, but Garcia regrouped in the decider to win 6-1 6-7 (10) 6-1.
Dart has found wins very hard to come by so far in 2023 and she was overpowered in the opening set, losing all three of her service games.
But she dug in at the start of the second and confidently held through to a dramatic tie-break, which saw Dart unable to take three set points and then save two Garcia chances before the Frenchwoman sent a forehand sailing out of court.
Garcia must have wondered how she was still out there but she channelled her frustration into breaking Dart at the first opportunity and showed her class to pull away.
This tie was always likely to be an uphill task given the respective rankings of the countries’ players and Britain’s chances were further reduced by Emma Raducanu – their only top-100 player – prioritising preparing for the clay-court season.
Britain were given a place in the finals last year despite losing in qualifying after the Lawn Tennis Association stepped in to host the event but there will be no repeat this year, and captain Anne Keothavong will hope she has more in-form players to pick from for the relegation play-offs in November.
It would be hard to argue Britain currently belong at the top table of women’s tennis and the priority for Dart, Boulter, Katie Swan and Jodie Burrage must be to improve their rankings so they are facing this calibre of player a lot more often.