Billie Jean Cup final result, Australia lose Billie Jean Cup final, Storm Sanders
Barty is nearly eight months away from retirement, while resurrected Daria Saville – one of only two Australians to make the top 100 – is at home in Melbourne nursing an ACL injury.
That left Tomljanovic fit to lead a team including so-called doubles specialists Sanders and Ellen Perez, a 38-year-old Sam Stosur who no longer plays singles, as well as newcomer Priscilla Hon.
But Molik said optimistically a week ago they had “big ambitions” and called his five-woman squad “fighters” who aimed to emulate the 1974 Australian champions, led by Evonne Goolagong.
Molik’s faith emboldened Sanders more than anyone.
Trusted as the No. 2 singles player behind Tomljanovic despite his modest No. 237 ranking – more than 80 places behind Hon – Sanders has emerged as Australia’s unlikely but undisputed hero.
The 28-year-old West Australian, a top-10 doubles star, toppled top-ranked opponents Viktoria Kuzmova, Alison Van Uytvanck and Heather Watson on the way to the final without dropping a set.
And while falling back in doubles each time, including being the best player on the court as Australia outlasted Great Britain in a decisive doubles semi-final match.
Sanders was brave in defeat this time, pushing 35th-placed Teichmann to the brink in a deadly and emotional three-set encounter that lasted two hours and 19 minutes.
Down a set and twice paused before taking a medical timeout for what looked like a sore Achilles, Sanders regained control from the baseline then repeatedly finished with his sharp skills superior.
Her aggressive shot helped her rightfully snatch the second set to force a decider, but Teichmann’s bathroom break coincided with a change in momentum.
The Swiss star took a 2-0 lead in the final set, only for fellow southpaw Sanders to find himself level again in four games.
But after avoiding another break point, Sanders headed straight into the net to squander an opportunity to take a 3-2 lead.
That miss continued to haunt her as Teichmann broke again and eventually posted a 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 triumph that culminated with the exhausted pair kissing at the net.
“It was pretty draining emotionally and physically too,” Sanders said.
“It was a really tough game. Jil is a really good player; she’s left-handed and really tricky.
“The first set didn’t really go my way – I was struggling with a few things – but I was really proud of how I came back in the second and just fought really hard.
“Then in the third set there were quite a few plays that could have gone either way – some two-way plays – and I was broken two-all.
“But I literally left everything there. I don’t have a lot of energy right now and [have] hardly anything more to give, so I’m proud to have left it all on the pitch.
Tomljanovic, a quarter-finalist at Wimbledon and the US Open this year, had to beat Bencic in singles No.1 to keep Australia’s hopes alive but caught up after losing serve in the third game.
In a rematch of last year’s Billie Jean King Cup semi-finals, Olympic gold medalist Bencic broke Tomljanovic’s serve six times in a 6-2, 6-1 demolition in 76 minutes.