Brisbane, 13 April 2024 | Dan Imhoff

Teenage debutante Taylah Preston has secured Australia’s return ticket to the Billie Jean King Cup Finals, sweeping past Mexico’s Marcela Zacarias 6-1 6-1 at Brisbane on Saturday.

Before more than 4000 fans at Pat Rafter Arena, the 18-year-old elevated the hosts to an unassailable 3-0 lead following Arina Rodionova’s three-set victory over Giuliana Olmos and Daria Saville’s dismissal of Zacarias on Friday.

Saville and Ellen Perez completed a 4-0 result in a doubles dead rubber after a 6-3 6-1 victory over Fernanda Contreras and Maria Fernanda Navarro.

“I’m just trying not to cry at the moment to be honest,” an emotional Preston said. “Obviously it’s a very amazing feeling. I’m very grateful to Sam [Stosur] and the team for the opportunity to play.

“I’m very lucky we have a very good team and everyone’s extremely supportive and made me feel very comfortable coming out to play today because I was a bit nervous.”

> READ: Team Australia rallies behind injured Hunter

Less than three months ago, Preston made her Grand Slam debut at Melbourne Park where she faced the daunting task of former world No.3 Elina Svitolina first up.

The West Australian admitted she felt greater pressure walking onto court on Saturday carrying the weight of her team and nation.

“Yeah even a little more nervous this morning,” she said. “I’m playing for something a lot bigger than myself, I’m playing for my team, I’m playing for my country… I don’t want to let the team down, there was a lot of what-ifs going on.

“All the girls were super supportive. They were just [saying] you’ll be fine, you deserve this. Yeah they were just really, really comforting so that was nice to have.

“Walking on the court my stomach was doing weird things. I was super nervous walking out but after a couple of games I’d loosened up a little bit and then just thought OK focus on the court, don’t try to look around too much and see everyone in the stands.

“I just tried to focus on my own things and I guess it worked.”

Team captain Stosur hailed her charges, having combined so effectively to finish unbeaten at Brisbane.

It ensured Australia’s return to the Finals fold, where the team last reached the decider in 2022, at Seville in November.

“Obviously it was shared around a lot,” Stosur. “Everyone played their part and obviously super happy for Tay today making her debut and performing as well as she did… Obviously now we’re in it to try and win it so as with every event that our players go to they think they’ve got a good chance.”

Despite the doubles triumph coming in a dead rubber, Perez said there was a good chance she and Saville would reprise the partnership should both make the Olympic team in Paris later this year.

“For sure, I think we have a great dynamic, we get on really well and I don’t actually know how it works for the ranking and what we need to combine… It is a shame to see someone like Storm Hunter go down but yeah I think we’ll find a way to try and do well at the Olympics,” she said.

> READ: Saville, Rodionova lift Australia to 2-0 lead over Mexico

The only Australian player of the tie to compete both days, Saville admitted it was always more nerve-racking playing at home.

“I feel like the whole team did an unbelievable job and like Sam mentioned how emotional it was for us seeing Stormy get injured… Unfortunate things can happen any minute,” she said. “We all wanted to make Stormy proud.”

With retired former world No.1 Ash Barty watching on, it did not take long for Preston’s nerves in the day’s first match.

No sooner had she found her rhythm and opened up a 4-1 lead than her opponent required a medical timeout for a right lower leg injury.

Preston knew to be wary of a wounded foe with little to lose, but she maintained a cool head and broke for a sixth time for victory after 66 minutes.

“Obviously it’s not very fun when you have to play an opponent with an injury… I sort of thought focus on my side of the court as harsh as that may sound,” Preston said. “I hope that Marcela is okay and it’s nothing too serious.”

With a major debut and national representative honours already ticked off in the first four months of 2024, the world No.136 was keeping expectations in check.

“Obviously as I start playing higher level tournaments and higher-ranked opponents everything’s going to become a bit tougher, but I’m ready to embrace those new challenges,” she said. “Everything at the moment is really new for me. It’s all very, very cool and fun, so I’m learning a lot.”