Boulter and Watson put Britain 2-0 up in BJK Cup tie against Mexico

In the empty, echoing halls of the LTA National Tennis Centre in Roehampton used for training and little else in normal times, Great Britain pieced together an efficient opening day of their Billie Jean King Cup play-off tie against Mexico, establishing a clear 2-0 lead as they attempt to maintain their spot in the top level of the competition.

Nominated as Great Britain’s second player despite her low ranking due to injury, Katie Boulter opened the tie by toiling through a tight first set before defeating Marcela Zacarias, Mexico’s No 1, 7-5, 6-0. Heather Watson swiftly followed her teammate with a 7-5, 6-1 win over Giuliana Olmos.

Even in the absence of British No1 Johanna Konta, Britain stood as heavy favourites and so it was particularly admirable that both Mexicans flew out of the gates, took advantage of early nerves across the net and forced their higher ranked opponents to play their best tennis in order to win.

Throughout a tight opening set, the 5ft 3in Zacarias marked herself a constant irritant, soaking up Boulter’s considerable pace and stepping forward to land sweetly struck backhands when she could. The pair converged on a lengthy 5-5 game on Boulter’s serve, in which Boulter saved two break points, held serve and then never looked back. As the momentum shifted, Boulter tore through her underpowered opponent with her far greater weight of shot

“I personally would compare the second set to how it felt at the start of the year for me in Australia,” said Boulter. “I think I was a little bit nervous at the start, obviously the occasion, I knew what it was and I wanted to play my best tennis. Sometimes it’s difficult to do that and I knew she was gonna be a tough opponent so of course it was natural to have nerves. I felt like I dealt with them really well, managed to tough out the first.

“That gave me a lot of momentum and gave me the confidence to go in the second. I thought I played some really good tennis in the second. I’ve been doing it day in, day out on the practice court. It’s just a matter of getting more and more of it on the match court.”

The second match of the day produced an eerily similar scenario as Olmos, a top 50 doubles player ranked 434 in singles, also played up to both the occasion and her opponent by also forcing Watson to 5-5 in the opening set. As the match endured, Watson slowly began to open her shoulders and after securing the first set, she produced a wonderful second set filled with smooth ball striking and swift forays to the net to seal the victory.

For a long time, Watson was the youngster of the team behind elders such as the absent Konta and captain Anne Keothavong, but today she is the veteran on the team. With her victory, Watson has now clinched the second most singles wins of all time for a Great Britain BJK Cup player, behind only Virginia Wade, and she now boasts a win-loss record of 23-10 (70%).

On Saturday, the singles will reverse and Watson is slated to face her fellow No 1 player Zacarias. Should a fourth rubber be necessary, Boulter will tackle Olmos.