Billie Jean King Cup: Harriet Dart keeps British hopes alive in Prague

Harriet Dart

Emma Raducanu struggled with a blister in a one-sided loss to Marketa Vondrousova but Harriet Dart rode to Great Britain’s rescue to set up a deciding doubles rubber in their Billie Jean King Cup clash with the Czech Republic in Prague.

Raducanu marked her debut in the competition on Friday by beating Tereza Martincova in her first professional match on clay but lost 6-1 6-1 to former French Open finalist Vondrousova in only 62 minutes.

That put the Czechs within sight of victory in the play-off but captain Petr Pala’s decision to throw 16-year-old rookie Linda Fruhvirtova backfired when she was beaten 6-0 5-7 6-2 by Dart.

Fruhvirtova is a huge talent who recently reached the fourth round in Miami but, with three top-80 players sat in the stands, this was a very bold call.

Dart looked to be cruising to victory at 6-0 5-2 up and held two match points in the next game but she wobbled badly before rallying in the decider to claim her first singles win in the competition.

The thermometer read just six degrees on Saturday morning, extremely cold for an outdoor tennis match, and it became clear when Raducanu took a medical timeout at the end of the first set that she was struggling with a blister on her right foot.

She barely moved for several balls in the second set, wincing and limping her way to the finish line.

Raducanu said of the blister: “It kind of showed up after yesterday’s match. We’ve been managing it but as you saw I couldn’t really move or load either way and now it’s just about trying to get it better as soon as possible.

“It was compromising every shot I had to play. It’s very disappointing when you’re out there playing a rubber for your country and you feel completely redundant.”

Raducanu’s win over Martincova was undoubtedly impressive but this was a different level of challenge against a true clay-court exponent, who thrashed Dart 6-1 6-0 on Friday.

The US Open champion wore leggings and a long-sleeve top to try to keep warm while hats and blankets were the order of the day for the crowd and support staff at the Cesky Lawn Tennis Klub.

Like Dart before her, Raducanu failed to hold serve throughout the match against Vondrousova, who will be a player to look out for at Roland Garros later in the spring.

Raducanu now faces a race against time to be fit for next week’s WTA Tour event in Stuttgart as she contemplates yet another physical issue.

Having begun the season playing catch-up after contracting coronavirus, Raducanu struggled with a blister on her hand at the Australian Open, pulled out during a match in Mexico with a thigh problem and was hampered by a stiff back in Indian Wells.

She said: “I’ve had a few blisters on my feet before. I think it’s related to numerous things. I’m going to need to go and evaluate all my options. This has happened quite a few times now and we need to nip it in the bud.

“Of course it’s frustrating but in some sort of twisted way it gives me a sense of confidence and relief that I don’t think it’s my tennis that’s the issue.

“I think my tennis level is pretty good it’s just about being able to repeat it or maintain it and not be hampered by any sort of physical issues.

“As soon as I sort all of these out and keep building on my tennis level then I think I’ll be able to put out good matches back to back.”