Katie Boulter pulled Great Britain level in their Billie Jean King Cup play-off against Sweden after a nervous Jodie Burrage suffered a nightmare debut.
The 24-year-old appeared to have settled well when she opened up a 4-0 lead on Kajsa Rinaldo Persson, ranked nearly 300 places lower, in the first match at London’s Copper Box but she then lost eight games in a row and fell to a 6-4 6-1 defeat.
Britain were overwhelming favourites going into the tie to win it and stay at the elite level of the competition, with Sweden missing their two highest-ranked players through injury.
And they should yet find a way through after Boulter again proved a steady pair of hands, defeating 532nd-ranked Caijsa Hennemann 6-2 6-1 to leave the tie level at 1-1 heading into Sunday’s concluding day, where two more wins are needed to secure overall victory.
Whether Burrage gets another chance must be highly questionable, with captain Anne Keothavong also able to call upon the more experienced Harriet Dart or Heather Watson.
Rankings often are not a great indicator of success in this competition and Burrage is far from the first player to fail to handle the occasion, but even by those standards this was some collapse.
She made 23 unforced errors in the first set alone, often missing by feet rather than inches as Persson’s comeback gathered pace, and lost 12 of the last 13 games.
The occasion has been a long time in coming for Burrage, who was unhappy to be overlooked for the last two teams, and she fought back tears as she said: “This event is nothing like (anything else) in tennis.
“I’m very proud to represent my country, I’m very disappointed that I didn’t get everyone a win today. That is going to stick with me for a while.
“It’s tough to take. I have not felt like this, and even the nerves before, ever, even stepping out onto Centre Court doesn’t compare to this.
“It’s so different when you’re playing for a team. That type of pressure I’ve never really understood before, and I don’t think you ever do until you do it. That’s why it hurts even more because I’m hurting for other people.”
Boulter spoke about a full-circle moment on Friday after finally making it back into the top 100 this season, four years after the back injury she suffered in leading Britain to victory over Kazakhstan at the same venue, which ruled her out for more than six months.
There have never been any concerns about the 27-year-old’s ability to produce on the big stage and although, like Persson, Hennemann played well above her ranking, Boulter was able to overpower her from the back of the court.
The world number 58 opened up early leads in both sets and saved all five break points she faced.