Great Britain captain Anne Keothavong challenged her players to show their best form on a week-to-week basis after a battling Billie Jean King Cup defeat by France in Coventry.
World number five Caroline Garcia ultimately showed her class, supported by the hugely experienced Alize Cornet, but Katie Boulter and Harriet Dart significantly outperformed their lowly rankings in narrow losses.
Britain went into the second day of the qualifier at the Coventry Building Society Arena knowing there was no room for error after Garcia battled past Boulter in nearly three-and-a-half hours on Friday and Cornet edged two tie-breaks against Dart.
The tie was all over after the first match on Saturday as Garcia withstood a second-set fightback from Dart, who saved two match points in a tense tie-break, to win 6-1 6-7 (10) 6-1.
It means France qualify for the finals week in November, while Keothavong’s side – who took advantage of hosting the competition last year to unexpectedly reach the semi-finals – face a relegation play-off to avoid dropping back to the regional level.
Keothavong praised the efforts of her players, saying: “Yesterday was such a tough day. But we were always going to be the underdogs against a very strong French team.
“I’m proud of the players. They gave it their best against much higher-ranked opponents and there were chances and that’s what we have to remember.
“It hasn’t been the easiest of years for any of our players on the team, singles as well as doubles players, but they’ve gone out there and there have been times where they’ve shown what they’re capable of.
“And now it’s important that they’re able to take all the good stuff that they get from these weeks into their next tournament and continue to build on their season.”
With Emma Raducanu making herself unavailable as she prepares for the start of the clay season, Keothavong stuck with the same team that defied the odds in Glasgow last year despite none being in good form.
Dart excelled in beating Paula Badosa and Ajla Tomljanovic to head into the off-season high on confidence but that has evaporated during a barren start to 2023 that has seen her drop well out of the top 100.
She was overpowered in the first set by Garcia but responded impressively, finally holding serve and forcing a tie-break, where both players struggled to overcome nerves.
Dart paid for weak second serves on two set points but fought off a pair of match points before taking her fourth opportunity thanks to a wild forehand from Garcia.
The Frenchwoman must have wondered how she was still out there but she channelled her frustration into breaking Dart at the first opportunity and showed her class to pull away.
“I’m not missing by a lot but it’s enough. A few points here or there makes quite a big difference. I just need to be able to tighten those things up and then the matches can be totally different.
“I’m proud that I was able to compete hard and give it my best. But there are lots of things to improve on.”
While Dart and Boulter, as well as Jodie Burrage and Katie Swan, are clearly capable of being ranked much higher than they are, Britain’s hopes of making it back to the finals without a wild card are likely to depend chiefly on Raducanu.
“And it’s not just Emma, it’s other players to consider as well. And the end of the season is always a tough time for everyone. Whoever is most fresh and healthy will be on the team.
“I do think that there should be no better feeling for an athlete than representing your country.”
The tie at least finished on a winning note for Britain, with doubles duo Alicia Barnett and Olivia Nicholls coming from 8-2 down in the deciding tie-break to beat Kristina Mladenovic and Clara Burel 7-5 3-6 (11-9) and make the overall score 3-1.