Harriet Dart keeps Britain hopes alive in Prague

Emma Raducanu struggled with a blister in a one-sided loss to Marketa Vondrousova, but Harriet Dart came to the rescue for Great Britain to set up a decisive brace in their Billie Jean King Cup clash with the Czech Republic in Prague.

Raducanu marked her competitive debut on Friday by beating Tereza Martincova in her first professional match on clay, but lost 6-1 6-1 to former French Open runner-up Vondrousova in just 62 minutes.

It put the Czechs in sight of victory in the play-offs, but captain Petr Pala’s decision to drop 16-year-old rookie Linda Fruhvirtova backfired when they were 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 sitting in the stands, it was a very bold call.

Dart appeared to be heading for victory at 6-0 5-2 and held two match points in the following match, but she faltered badly before rallying to the decider to claim her first singles victory 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 time-out at the end of the first set that she was suffering from a blister in her right foot.

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

Raducanu said of the light bulb: “It kind of appeared after the game yesterday. We managed it but as you saw I couldn’t really move or load anyway and now it’s just trying to improve it ASAP.

“It compromised every shot I had to play. It’s very disappointing when you play a rubber for your country and feel completely redundant.

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

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

Like Dart before her, Raducanu failed to hold serve throughout the match against Vondrousova, who will be a player to watch 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 considers another physical issue.

After starting the season playing catch-up after contracting coronavirus, Raducanu struggled with a blister in her hand at the Australian Open, pulled out of a match in Mexico with a thigh problem and been 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 many things. I’m going to have to go evaluate all my options. It’s happened many times now and we have to nip it in the bud.

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

“I think my level of tennis is quite good, it’s just about being able to repeat it or maintain it and not be hampered by physical problems.

“As soon as I sort all that out and keep improving my level of tennis, I think I can put on some good matches in a row.”

Berta D. Wells