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Katie Boulter admitted “I may have seen it coming a little bit”, after she was eliminated from Wimbledon in just 51 minutes by little-known Frenchwoman Harmony Tan.
On Thursday, Boulter had achieved a career high by defeating last year’s finalist Karolina Pliskova on Centre Court. But it was an emotional afternoon all round. During the on-court interview, Boulter reduced many spectators to tears with a heartfelt tribute to her late grandmother Jill.
By the time Boulter arrived on Court Two for Saturday’s match, the mental and physical exertion was beginning to bite. As a result, she found herself short of inspiration against a wily opponent who barely missed a ball, and the result was a 6-1, 6-1 towelling.
“I was struggling a little bit this morning in the warm-up,” said Boulter, who had only learned about the loss of her grandmother after her first-round win over Clara Burel.
“I think I'm just a little bit mentally tapped out. It's been a long few weeks [and] this week has probably been the tipping point, the cherry on top. I've played some great matches but it's also been very emotional. I think today was one step too far for me.”
Tan may be ranked a lowly No 115, but she has taken huge confidence from her brave first-round win over seven-time champion Serena Williams.
Boulter’s coach Jeremy Bates had warned on Friday that Tan plays like a female Fabrice Santoro, the Frenchman who earned the nickname of “The Magician” in the 1990s and early 2000. In other words, she possesses sublime hand skills.
Tan did everything well. One minute she was slicing and dicing, the next she was taking her double-handed backhand firmly up the line, or running back to hit a tweener. Even her serve, which should have been attackable given her lack of height, held up superbly as she averaged 101mph on her first delivery. Boulter, supposedly a much bigger hitter, only narrowly shaded her with 102mph.
It proved to be a horrible match-up for Boulter, who much prefers a heavyweight slugging contest to a delicate test of touch and feel. On her day, she could perhaps have taken advantage of Tan’s lack of ball-speed. But it was actually those slow, floating balls – known to tennis professionals as “junk” – which Boulter struggled with. Time and again she banged neutral backhands into the net, finishing with 21 unforced errors to Tan’s miserly five.
“It was really difficult,” said Boulter. “She doesn't give you any rhythm. On a grass court, she's got a great slice, she moves you around the court. She used the wind really well today against me.
“I didn't feel like I was penetrating in any way. I didn't feel like I was winning any points off my serve that I normally do, or off my groundstrokes. As the scoreline shows, it wasn't an easy battle for me today.”
In the big picture, though, this has been a terrific grass-court season for Boulter, who played 13 matches in 29 days, winning nine of them. There were twin victories over Pliskova in that time – the first at Eastbourne – with other notable results coming against Caroline Garcia and Tatjana Maria, two women who have reached the second week of this event.
Boulter’s strong sequence looks all the more creditable when you consider that she started out at Nottingham without any competitive tennis over the previous couple of months. A bone problem in her foot forced her to sit out the entire clay-court season – although she did her best to use her fallow weeks wisely in the gym.
“I'm sitting here saying I'm a little bit tired,” Boulter said. “But I'm in the best place I've ever been. I really can't complain with the way I'm feeling physically. I think this is more of an emotional drain rather than a physical one.
“It’s the strongest I've been and most consistent I've been over the past few weeks. I think a lot of that is down to the physical work that I've been doing behind the scenes, and a slight change in program.”
This is encouraging news, because Boulter’s susceptibility to injury has held her back enormously since she was ranked among the world’s 10 best juniors in her age group. Before the foot problem there were a couple of debilitating stress fractures, one in her right elbow and one in her spine.
Going back even further, to what should have been her first full season on the tour, she could barely get out of bed for several months because of chronic fatigue. Now 25, Boulter had to restrict her gym work and her court time for many years after that mysterious period of ill health in 2015, just to make sure that she didn’t relapse. Between tournaments, she would only do one daily hitting session, where others might do two.
In recent weeks, however, she has gained enough confidence to abandon this cautious approach. “This is new ground for me,” she said. “I haven't been in this place before. I've obviously had those issues in the past. I feel like they've been put behind me now. I feel like I can crack on.”
“Knowing that I can put everything into a certain [training] block, that's what's going to be making the difference for me,” Boulter concluded. “Hopefully I can keep that going and be in an even better place by the end of the year.”
Katie Boulter vs Harmony Tan: as it happened
Cheering Harmony on!
How long can Tan keep this run going? I'm sure her biggest fan will be backing her all the way...
— Wimbledon (@Wimbledon) July 2, 2022
Did the smaller court impact Boulter?
After her exploits in the second round on Centre Court, there was a lot of noise made about Boulter not being on a show court again.
Should she have been on Centre or Court 1? Was she overawed by the occasion? I guess we'll find out in the press conference later.
More from Tan
I think I like grass, I never play on this court but I like to play with slice and volley and everything with my game so I'm really happy.
I can't believe it yet. I think if I sleep a bit tonight, then tomororow I will believe. It’s amazing. I think I like grass. I’m really happy.
It was really emotional in the first round against Serena. After, it was just about playing match per match. Today [I played] really good tennis. I don’t know why. It depends on the day.”
Boulter 1-6, 1-6 Tan* (*denotes next server)
Mis-hit backhand by Boulter flies wide, 30-30. Amazing backhand pass by Tan and Boulter can't get the volley over, match point.
Boulter double fault. GAME SET MATCH TAN.
I'm a bit lost for words there. I did not expect that
Boulter* 1-6, 1-5 Tan (*denotes next server)
Tan is a game away from the fourth round after rattling through another service game.
She hits a backhand winner down the line to hold.
Latest update from Court 2 via Fiona Tomas
Boulter just can’t get her teeth into Tan’s fierce serving game. It’s hard to see a way back for the Brit now. She isn’t striking the ball as consistently as we’ve seen her do in her previous matches - she almost seems to be forcing her groundstrokes a bit too much.
Maybe Tan’s solid display has something to do with the little girl sitting with her entourage. She became the star of the show in Tan’s huge performance over Serena Williams earlier in the week and is here again, avidly cheering on the Frenchwoman and bringing all the big energy.
Boulter 1-6, 1-4 Tan* (*denotes next server)
Problems for Boulter as she slips to 0-30. Tan turns defence into attack with a stunning forehand winner on the run, 0-40.
Boulter saves the first break point. Then the second with a good serve down the T.
WHAT A POINT. It had everything, a lob, a tweener, a drop shot. But it ends with Tan passing Boulter with a forehand to break.
Boulter* 1-6, 1-3 Tan (*denotes next server)
Boulter with a tame backhand into the net, 30-15. Boulter forehand winner into the corner, deuce.
A chance to apply some pressure for Boulter but back-t-back errors allows Tan to escape.
Boulter 1-6, 1-2 Tan* (*denotes next server)
Best service game of the match so far from Boulter as she holds to love very quickly with a forehand winner.
Can that spark her into life before it is too late?
Boulter* 1-6, 0-2 Tan (*denotes next server)
Tan holds to love when Boulter drags a backhand return wide.
Plenty of support for Boulter but the occasion seems to be getting to her.
Second Set: Boulter 1-6, 0-1 Tan* (*denotes next server)
Yikes. Boulter falls to 0-40 on her serve and is broken again when she puts a forehand into the tramlines.
Awful start to a must win set.
First Set summary from Court 2 via Fiona Tomas
It’s a big day for the Boulter family, who are out in force in the corner of Court No.2. Among her relatives is her grandad, Brian Boulter, who was also courtside for the Brit’s sensational victory over Karolina Pliskova two days ago which she dedicated to her late grandmother.
You can feel the nervous energy. Before the match, Boulter’s brother, James, greeted some family friends and as he returned to his seat made the ‘fingers crossed’ sign.
They’ll be pleased Boulter has finally got her name on the board after being broken by Tan early on, but the Frenchwoman has started strongly, hitting some astute winners and now has the first set.
Boulter* 1-6 Tan (*denotes next server)
The crowd seems less than enthused by what they are seeing from Boulter. It has been quite disappointing in truth.
An ace from Tan seals another service hold and the set. Work to do for Boulter.
Boulter 1-5 Tan* (*denotes next server)
The first set is going from bad to worse for the Briton, She slips to 15-40 and get broken again when she nets a forehand.
Not even had 30 minutes of play yet.
Latest update from Court 2 via Simon Briggs
Tan has her little sister in her support box again. The French player put her finger over her lips because she was talking too much!
Boulter* 1-4 Tan (*denotes next server)
Tan is playing at a very high level at the moment and she drills a backhand winner up the line, 40-15.
Boulter goes for too much on the forehand return and she concedes another game.
Boulter 1-3 Tan* (*denotes next server)
Boulter slips to 0-30 but fights back well to 30-30. Boulter forehand winner into the corner, 40-30.
Boulter with a backhand into the net, going for too much there in my opinion. Deuce.
Boulter sliced backhand into the tramlines, break point Tan. Good forehand approach by Boulter and Tan can't get the ball back in play.
Shot of the match so far from Boulter as she places a forehand down the line for a winner to finally get on the scoreboard.
Latest update from Court 2 via Fiona Tomas
Scores of empty seats at Court 2 for Katie Boulter's biggest match of her career... which wasn't deemed big enough for Centre. Harmony Tan - who upset Serena Williams in the opening round - stands in her way and has started strongly #Wimbledon2022 pic.twitter.com/T1fsEsJNJc
— Fiona Tomas (@fi_tomas_) July 2, 2022
Boulter* 0-3 Tan (*denotes next server)
Another service hold to 15 for Tan. Boulter is yet to get going, perhaps slightly nervous.
Boulter 0-2 Tan* (*denotes next server)
Boulter breaks a string on her Wilson racket as the ball flies out of play, 15-30.
Bit of fortune for Tan as Boulter hits a backhand up the line and Tan's volley hits the top of the net and drops on the Briton's side. Two break points.
Boulter saves the first with an aggressive play and volley winner. But not the second as she strangely opts to leave a lob by Tan which comfortable drops in. Early break for the Frenchwoman.
First Set: Katie Boulter* 0-1 Harmony Tan (*denotes next server)
Tan makes a strong start by holding to 15. It will be a game of patience for Boulter but she looks to have more firepower.
I'm in position...
... here we go. Tan to serve first!
The players are out...
... and that's my cue to make my move courtside.
What about Tan?
Many players after beating an all-time great in Serena Williams could have suffered from a drop in level.
But Tan backed up that first round win with another in round two and she will pose a tough test for Boulter today.
The man in Boulter's corner
Jeremy Bates has coached Boulter through the ups and downs for the best part of a decade before overseeing her impressive Wimbledon run.
He spoke to our tennis correspondent Simon Briggs about the 25-year-old from Leicester.
Katie has always got her head down and got on with it. There's not ever a day where she doesn't train. It was the same with Emma [Raducanu] when she was doing all her schoolwork: there was never a day she didn't turn up and work. And that's what it comes down to. You either want to do it or you don't.
You can read more here.
A conflict of interest for Boulter?
It has been a great week on court in the Boulter household, with boyfriend Alex De Minaur also through to the third round after beating Britain's Jack Draper on Thursday.
And next the Australian takes on Broady, who will not hold it against Boulter if she cheers against him.
"I won't judge her if she sits in Demon's (De Minaur's) box," said Broady. "She kind of has to, doesn't she?"
Tears for Boulter
Thursday was an emotional day for Boulter. Not only did she complete a major win, it came two days after the loss of her grandmother.
"Her favourite tournament was Wimbledon," Boulter told reporters. "That's why it's a special one for me. She'd watch every single match that was on the TV.
"It's been a tough few days for sure. I've tried to kind of get my emotions out and deal with the situation, try and keep my head on the tennis.
"I was lucky because my grandpa managed to come down from Leicester, and so we could keep him company and keep supporting him at the same time."
Hello and welcome to Telegraph Sport's coverage of the Wimbledon Championships 2022.
First up we have one of the stories of the tournament so far in Katie Boulter.
After her heroics on Centre Court on Thursday, Wimbledon officials have surprisingly decided to put her match with Harmony Tan on Court 2 and it has caused a bit of an uproar.
Boulter achieved arguably the standout result of a strong collective home showing this year by defeating last July's runner-up Karolina Pliskova in the second round.
That she did so two days after the death of her grandmother speaks volumes about Boulter's attitude and resilience in the face of adversity.
The 25-year-old has had plenty of that to deal with in the form of a fatigue illness that stopped her in her tracks as a teenager and injuries that have been frustratingly frequent.
A spinal stress fracture in 2019 set her back just when she seemed to have established herself in the top 100, while she was sidelined for three months of this year with a leg injury.
"I think every time you lose a tennis match or every time something happens in your life, you do get a little bit of a reality check," said Boulter. "I feel like I'm the type of person that will come back stronger no matter what happens.
"I'm lucky to have such a great support around me, and that does make a huge, huge difference. I've got great people, great boyfriend, just a great team who push me every single day.
"Without that network, I'm not sure where I would be. But ultimately I am a fighter and I am standing here today having overcome a lot of those issues. I just hope that they will at some point go away."
France's Tan, who is also having her best grand slam run after beating Serena Williams in round one.
"I actually watched her match against Serena," said Boulter. "She makes it very difficult. There's a reason she's beaten some really good players this week. It's going to be a tough battle. But ultimately I'm just going to go out and enjoy myself and play some good tennis hopefully."