Katie Boulter celebrates a victory she thought would never come
When Katie Boulter raised her arms in celebration on a packed out Centre Court, the moment felt like a long time coming.
As a teenager Boulter was tipped as one of the brightest British tennis prospects, but nearly two years of injury trouble and false starts followed to slow her progress. It means Thursday marked a belated arrival of sorts as, aged 25, this is the first time she has reached the third round at a major. That she did it by beating last year's runner up Karolina Pliskova in a huge upset made it worth the wait.
"I've learnt to be patient," an emotional Boulter said after. "I wouldn't say I'm a patient person, I think I never really had the choice. It's the reason I am where I am today."
She dedicated her thrilling second-round win at Wimbledon to her maternal grandmother Jill, who died two days prior. She was part of a familial support system that has propped up Boulter in the most difficult moments.
She was sidelined from tennis for nine months with a spinal stress fracture between 2019 and 2020, before the pandemic put the brakes on her comeback. It was all the more frustrating because it happened just as she had made her breakthrough, reaching a career-high 82 in the world.
Her success here at Wimbledon has run in tandem with a host of British up-and-comers reaching new milestones this week. The 'Emma Raducanu Effect' as it is being dubbed was evident in 10 Brits making the second round at Wimbledon for the first time since 1984. But Boulter said the long, laborious journey she has been on could not look more different to her younger compatriot bursting onto the scene.
“I think it just shows how much work I've put in," she said. "I never, ever expect to have things change overnight. I don't think that's something that ever happens.
"It does sometimes in miracles. You look at Emma, she's put a lot of work in. Right early in her career she's been able to come out there and swing freely. I think it's a little bit different for me where I have had to build momentum and some strength physically. It's a huge part of my game. I finally have been able to put that work in. It's started to pay off. I've got a lot more work to do, and hopefully I can keep doing that.”
Beating world No 7 Pliskova for the second time in the space of a week showed this was no fluke either. That win in Eastbourne was the best of her career on ranking, but the sense of occasion on Thursday far surpassed it.
Boulter was playing on Centre Court for only the second time, but the crowd - who had seen two champions in Raducanu and Andy Murray crash out on Wednesday - were crying out for some good news. She gave them that, fighting back with her aggressive game to a 3-6 7-6(4) 6-4 victory.
For Pliskova, this continues an awful season, where she has only won back-to-back matches twice. She has lost seven times to opponents outside the top 50 this year too, helping bolster Boulter's belief even after she squandered an early break and lost the first set.
Though Pliskova served supremely throughout, hitting 13 aces and nearly 80 per cent of her first serves, Boulter kept the faith. She played a gutsy tiebreak to force a decider and then - inspired by Pliskova - served lights out to keep herself in it.
She won 20 of 24 points on her serve in the third set, and pounced on Pliskova's late on to set up the opportunity to serve for the match. Even with the Centre Court crowd's roar for company, she kept her composure and a forehand down the line sealed the win.
“I think [beating Pliskova last week] really helped," she said. "It's easy to say I believe I can win this match, but to have actually gone out and done it a week before, it does make the difference. I felt like I went through that last week. I just needed to stay with her and stay on serve, especially in the second set. I did that again in Eastbourne, I managed to get a chance. I feel like I got that chance again today."
The shame is that Boulter will earn no ranking points here, due to Wimbledon's ban of Russian and Belarusian players. The boost this week could have seen her climb into the top 100 again.
Regardless she has a solid chance of progressing further, as she plays Wimbledon debutant and Serena Williams's unlikely victor Harmony Tan of France next. Tan scored another upset to beat Spain's 32nd-seed Sara Sorribes Tormo in straight sets on Thursday and addressed off-court controversy that has followed her since her win over Williams.
Germany's Tamara Korpatsch called Tan "unprofessional" on Wednesday, when she withdrew from their doubles action citing a thigh injury. Korpatsch has since apologised to Tan, but was still moved to post a back-handed congratulatory message on Instagram for the Frenchwoman's latest victory. Tan said she did not have time for the "drama" - not with a third round at Wimbledon to play for.
"I told [Korpatsch] I can't play because I have something on my leg. I can't walk really good," Tan said. "She was angry, but it's life... She apologised this morning. She text me, and she apologise for this publication, and, you know, I don't like drama. I'm not like this. So I didn't answer.”