Katie Boulter battles through tricky first round to set up Battle of Britain at Wimbledon

With one sweeping backhand passing shot down the line, British No 1 Katie Boulter sauntered through to the second round at Wimbledon on Tuesday evening.

The 27-year-old had enjoyed a terrific season so far, defending her title in Nottingham and earning the biggest trophy of her career in San Diego in February. En route to that second crown in Nottingham a few weeks back, Boulter battled through a tight and contentious three-set match against British No 2 Harriet Dart, in which Dart labelled the chair umpire “embarrassing” and wagered £50,000 that an overruled line call went against her.

Get the popcorn ready because, enthrallingly, it is Dart who Boutler faces in round two on Thursday.

“Playing a Brit in the UK on the grass is never an easy draw,” Boulter said of the all-British match-up. “I’m expecting an absolute battle. But it’s about playing the tennis ball, not the person.”

In their respective first-round duels though, it was the unseeded Dart who was more destructive. Opening day two proceedings on Court 18, the world No 94 needed just 77 minutes – with a rain delay in between uninfluential in altering the course of the match – to dismantle Chinese qualifier Zhuoxuan Bai, 6-4, 6-0.

On the prospect of facing 32nd seed Boulter, the fellow 27-year-old said: “It’s always going to be tricky, whoever I play, especially when you play a fellow Brit.

“But it’s great to see that all of us are doing well and putting us in positions where we do get to play each other, hopefully more so in the latter rounds.

“I’m not seeded, so I always knew I’m going to play a seeded player at some point. She’s having an amazing year … I expect a very tough match.”

For Boulter, it was slightly more arduous against an unorthodox, old-school competitor in 36-year-old German Tatjana Maria. Cheered on by a support group on Court 3 which included boyfriend Alex de Minaur – who was victorious in his men’s singles first-round match in three tie-breaks earlier in the day – the British No 1 had to win a tense breaker herself to set her on the path to the next stage, courtesy of a 7-6 (8), 7-5 win.

Katie Boulter celebrates her victory (PA Wire)
Katie Boulter celebrates her victory (PA Wire)
Harriet Dart will face Boulter in the second round on Thursday (PA Wire)
Harriet Dart will face Boulter in the second round on Thursday (PA Wire)

It was nip and tuck for most of the two hours and seven minutes. Boulter’s forehand was rock solid on the whole but, when drawn smartly into the net, her lacklustre volleying quickly became apparent.

The 2022 Wimbledon semi-finalist was plucky, delightfully accepting the role of defender with her consistent use of slice off both wings and frustrating her opponent. The unseeded player went a break up, before Boulter bounced back and snuck through the breaker, 8-6.

The second set was much of the same. Both made inroads on each other’s service games yet neither could convert glimpses at a break of serve until Maria cracked with another tiebreak on the horizon. A wild forehand at 30-30 handed Boulter a match point and, when faced with her opponent at the net, the Brit hit a razor-sharp backhand straight down the line. She turned to her player box and screamed in delight.

“I know she made semi-finals here a couple of years ago, she’s so tough to play,” Boulter said on court.

“She makes me work for absolutely everything – I’m looking forward to the ice bath and I haven’t said that before! I knew if I could get through this one, it sets me up well for the rest of the matches.”

The biggest shock on Tuesday in the women’s singles was the elimination of defending champion Marketa Vondrousova. The Czech sixth seed’s fitness was ropey coming into The Championships after she sustained an injury in Berlin a few weeks ago and it showed, with unseeded Spaniard Jessica Bouzas Maneiro earning a famous Centre Court win, 6-4, 6-2. It is the first time since Steffi Graf in 1994 that a defending women’s champion has crashed out in the first round.

There was no such trouble for world No 1 Iga Swiatek, as she eyes a rare Roland Garros-Wimbledon double. The Pole swept through 6-3, 6-3 against former grand Slam winner Sofia Kenin in an impressive performance, given Kenin beat Coco Gauff in round one here last year. The 2022 champion Elena Rybakina, seeded fourth this year, was also a comfortable 6-3, 6-1 winner against Elena-Gabriele Ruse.

The other Brit in action in the women’s singles was wild card Francesca Jones. Despite claiming the first set 6-3 on Court 15, she succumbed to defeat as the sky darkened against Petra Martic of Croatia in three sets.

Emma Raducanu, Carlos Alcaraz and Coco Gauff are all back in action on Wednesday but, interestingly, all three stars are scheduled on Court 1, with world No 1 Jannik Sinner’s all-Italian clash against former Wimbledon finalist Matteo Berrettini the best match-up on Centre Court.

Defending champion Marketa Vondrousova is out of Wimbledon (PA Wire)
Defending champion Marketa Vondrousova is out of Wimbledon (PA Wire)