By Ros Satar, in Birmingham
- Katie Boulter reached the quarter-finals in Nottingham picking up her first tour level wins in the process
- Awarded a wild-card into Birmingham and faces Naomi Osaka in the first round
- ‘Inspiring’ to be around Heather Watson and Johanna Konta
BIRMINGHAM, UK – Following on from her success in Nottingham, Katie Boulter arrived in Birmingham keen for more of the same, as she opens her campaign against Naomi Osaka.
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It a question often asked, seemingly especially when Wimbledon rolls around, and folks who rarely watch the game all year round wonder where the next best thing in British Tennis is coming from.
With Andy Murray only just returning to the tour after 11 months off with a hip injury and subsequent surgery in January, and British No. 1 on the women’s side Johanna Konta only just finding form after a worrying dip after reaching the Wimbledon semi-final last year, where will our next stars come from?
Step up Katie Boulter, who not only picked up her first win at tour level in the main draw in Nottingham, but she went on to pick up another before falling to newly crowned Nottingham champion Ashleigh Barty.
Yet as recently as 2015, all her good work on the lower tiers was undone with a lot of 2015 and the early part of 2016 dealing with injury and illness that left her extremely tired.
She told reporters in Birmingham: “I just think I’ve been working a lot more physically. You know it was a few years ago that I was ill and since then I’ve been building my game up, trying to build strength and more hours on court and things like that and it’s made a huge impact for me.
“I’ve been working with the Federation on getting stronger, so I can last longer and back these wins up. I’ve always felt like I can beat someone but can I back it up the next day and feel like I’m feeling ok and what have you. So, I think that’s been a massive part to my year so far.”
She has been busy on the lower tour levels building up some solid sets of wins and reached the quarter-finals in Surbiton at the start of June, before benefiting and making good use of a wildcard in Nottingham.
She said: “I’ve been putting in so much effort into everything that I’ve been doing. It’s been a really good week and an eye-opener that can really help me for the rest of the season, and the rest of the year. I feel like I can compete with these players and I think I showed that last week.
“Until you start beating these people who are ranked higher, bigger names, you know of course you’re going to doubt yourself a little bit. It’s natural to do so. But I can do it and I am getting better at everything.”
Having added the scalp of former US Open champion Samantha Stosur to her tally, she admitted that the leap between reaching the quarter-finals of an ITF event (Surbiton) and then the WTA International event in Nottingham are gulfs apart.
She said: “I’ve not been in that environment before. I haven’t played many of those matches and finding a way to get over that line and win the match means a lot to me. Obviously with someone of that calibre, I mean she’s a great player, she’s a Grand Slam champion. Yeah it gives me a lot of faith I can do a lot more going forward.”
Boulter continued: “It’s really exciting for me. Like last week was one of my first WTAs, here’s another chance, another big one to test my skills against someone who’s 20 in the world, or Top 20. I’m really thankful to have this opportunity and I’m looking forward to getting out there and playing.”
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‘I try and copy’ Johanna Konta and Heather Watson
Boulter has, like a few of the young up and coming players, been alongside the more established players during Fed Cup group ties. With the focus now firmly on the Brits as we gallop towards Wimbledon, Boulter speaks highly of the British Nos. 1 and 2, Konta and Heather Watson, playing alongside them in Nottingham last week.
She said: “Those girls have always been really supportive and it’s great to see them around, to follow them, see what they’re doing. I try and copy them because they’re top players in the world so it’s quite inspiration for me to be around them, like with Fed Cup and to see how they work and how they operate and how professional they are. And I think that’s something that I’ve taken, and I’ve tried to do the same.”
Of course right now they all have home advantage at a time when a lot of Wimbledon-watching folks park themselves in front of the TV in the belief that these are the only two weeks that tennis takes place, and Boulter knows that it is not enough to just have a solid run on the grass, but she needs to then back that up for the rest of the season.
She said: “It’s great that people can get involved and watch these weeks. I hope that it urges them to watch the rest of the year, all the matches and what have you. I think from my point of view I do the same thing day in, day out.
“I work hard and whether it happens this week, the week after or five months down the line, I’m hoping that what I’ve put in is going to come out. And at the moment it’s coming out right now and I want to keep the roll going. I won’t be disheartened if I have a bad week here and there – that’s tennis. I think you pick yourself up and get back to the next one.”
Boulter [WC] v Naomi Osaka | First Meeting
She faces a touch opener in Naomi Osaka, who also fell to eventual Nottingham champion Barty. Last year Osaka did not exactly set the world alight on grass with a couple of wins at Wimbledon, but rarely exits in Nottingham, Birmingham and Eastbourne – so she is obviously getting a little more comfortable on the surface, following a third round exit at Roland Garros.
Boulter has shown that she is not to be taken lightly and will try and get on the end of Osaka’s heavy serving – which can probably cause some damage on the quicker courts in Birmingham. Both tend to play more of an aggressive baseliner’s game, but Osaka just looks a little more consistent at the moment.
She has shown that she is not over-awed by players with rankings so this is really on Osaka’s racquet to lose. She looked to be the more steady in Nottingham and a loss at a Premier level event would be no shame for the Brit, but she could shock the Japanese player and be good for a set at least.
Prediction: Osaka in three sets
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