Britain clung to hopes of advancing to the semi-finals of the Billie Jean King Cup final after a 2-1 opening defeat to Kazakhstan in Glasgow.
Britain secured a place as hosts after the Lawn Tennis Association stepped in to stage the event at the Emirates Arena and, especially without the injured Emma Raducanu, lacks the strength of almost any other team .
They spoke confidently on Monday about their chances of using home advantage to create an upset, but the tie was over after the singles, with Katie Boulter losing 4-6 6-3 6-2 to fiery Yulia Putintseva and Harriet Dart beaten 6-1 6-4 by Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina.
The day at least ended on a high note, with debutants Alicia Barnett and Olivia Nicholls producing a great performance to defeat Rybakina and doubles world number 12 Anna Danilina 7-5 6-3.
That could prove important, but Britain’s chances now hinge on Spain beating Kazakhstan on Wednesday and the hosts losing to the Spaniards the following day.
Captain Anne Keothavong said: “We are playing in front of a local audience. There’s a lot of pride on the line. So, whatever it is, what will be will be tomorrow, and we will prepare in the right way for Spain.
The Kazakhs might even claim the loudest supporters, with their loyal group of supporters outshining the sparse British crowd.
Keothavong added: “Ideally you would like more people to come and support you, because there is good tennis to offer. How many chances do you have to see a Wimbledon champion and the British players playing on your doorstep?”
Given the difficulty of Dart’s mission, Britain’s hopes rested on Boulter’s ability to cause an upset against Putintseva.
Although Boulter is ranked almost 80 places lower at 130, she has been a consistent performer in the big games with a great record in the competition – her only two losses both came against Putintseva.
The 26-year-old from Leicestershire got off to a great start, smashing her opponent to love in her first two service games, but strayed into the second set and a 4-0 deficit in the decider s turned out to be a mountain far too big to climb.
She said: “I came out swinging and she had obviously come up with a game plan that I think was slightly fine with me initially.
“She then completely changed her game plan and I started allowing her to play the way she (wanted), and she maneuvered me on the pitch instead of me taking the lead.”
Boulter took a medical time-out after three games in the decider for treatment to his left calf but shrugged off any fitness concerns for Thursday.
Rybakina has had its ups and downs since winning her first Grand Slam title at the All England Club, but has one of the strongest games on the tour, including serving from over 120 miles a hour, and was always likely to have too many for the 95th-ranked Dart.
Dart dug well after a set and 2-0 up and had two chances to lead 5-4 in the second but Rybakina took four straight and then served the win.
“She’s definitely one of the few players on the tour that can sort of take the game away from you,” Dart said.
“I think I was right in the second set and there were a few mistakes that I absolutely have to correct. But for sure it’s all encouraging.
Barnett and Nicholls’ breakthrough season earned them a late call-up after Raducanu pulled out and they showed interest in picking an established doubles pair.
They called the win the best of their careers, with Nicholls saying, “It’s definitely our best win. Top 20 doubles player and Wimbledon champion. I felt we really had our best game today.