Australia is into the championship tie at the Billie Jean King Cup Finals for the 19th time in its history, with Storm Sanders notching singles and doubles wins over home team Great Britain in a semifinal tie that could not have been much closer.
On Saturday in Glasgow, Scotland, Sanders defeated Heather Watson 6-4, 7-6(3) in the opening singles match, but Great Britain’s Harriet Dart leveled affairs by upsetting Ajla Tomljanovic 7-6(3), 6-2.
It came down to the decisive doubles match, where Sanders returned and paired with Samantha Stosur to eke out a whisker-thin 7-6(1), 6-7(5), [10-6] victory over Brits Alicia Barnett and Olivia Nicholls.
Australia will now face Switzerland in Sunday’s championship tie. The Swiss will play for the title for a second straight year after outdueling the Czech Republic to sweep the two singles rubbers. Viktorija Golubic kicked off the day with a 6-4, 6-4 win over Karolina Muchova. Belinda Bencic sealed the win for Switzerland by coming back from 5-2 down in the second set and saving a set point to defeat Karolina Pliskova 6-2, 7-6(6).
Switzerland is bidding to win its first Billie Jean King Cup title, having finished runner-up in 2021 and 1998.
The Aussies, who were Billie Jean King Cup runners-up as recently as 2019, are seeking their first championship since 1974, when they won their seventh title in an 11-year span.
In the opening match of the day, Australia's Sanders continued her impressive singles performance from throughout the week. The 28-year-old is ranked inside the Top 10 in doubles but No.237 in singles, and yet, Sanders has gone 3-0 in singles play in Glasgow thus far.
Forays into the net and excellent passes gave left-handed Sanders the first set. In the second set, Sanders took complete control in the tiebreak, taking four of the first five points with winners.
Sanders earned five match points with a backhand winner for 6-1, and she converted her third match point with another strong backhand. Sanders finished the clash having saved four of the five break points she faced.
However, 98th-ranked Dart put Great Britain back in contention. World No.33 Tomljanovic, a three-time Grand Slam quarterfinalist over the last two years, had beaten Dart in their two previous meetings, but Dart powered to the upset win in 1 hour and 49 minutes.
Dart saw an early break and a set point at 5-4 slip away as Tomljanovic’s gritty court coverage pulled her into the first-set tiebreak. Dart, though, maintained her aggressive stances in the breaker, and a forehand crosscourt winner gave her three more set points at 6-3.
Dart forced a long error from Tomljanovic on her second set point to grind out the one-set lead after 68 minutes, and the Brit cruised through the second set after that. Dart finished the match with 25 winners, more than double Tomljanovic’s 12.
Green and golden moment 💚🇦🇺💛@TennisAustralia celebrate booking a 19th final after a 7-6(1) 6-7(5) 10-6 nail-biter! Will it be 🏆 No.8?#BJKCupFinals | @stormsanders94 | @bambamsam30 pic.twitter.com/JDhT5jmN09— Billie Jean King Cup (@BJKCup) November 12, 2022
An intense doubles match to decide the finalist saw each set go the distance before the Aussies prevailed after 92 minutes of play. Each pair broke serve twice in a clash which could only be settled by a match-tiebreak, in which the Australians pulled away by winning the last four points.
Australia saved two set points at 6-5 in the first set before dominating the tiebreak, with Sanders’ blistering returns bolstered by clutch serving by Stosur. However, Nicholls’ volleys kept the British duo in play, and they squeaked out the second-set tiebreak after a passing winner by Barnett.
In the match-tiebreak, Barnett and Nicholls chipped away at the Australians’ 6-3 lead to reach parity at 6-6. But a volley winner by each Aussie saw them move ahead 8-6, and a Stosur forehand winner gave them three tie points at 9-6.
Australia needed just one, as a final winning volley by Sanders completed her exceptional day with her second victory, moving her team into the final.