What didn't kill you can make you stronger. Katie Boulter learned it the hard way. The Brit, who made her Top 100 debut this season, was sidelined for almost a year with chronic fatigue syndrome. “Two years ago now I was out for a year, so I didn’t play tennis at all.
So I have to be very careful with my body and how far I push it,” she said The Daily Mail. “I'm still very careful with what I do. I'm getting better and better. I am not at my maximum yet. This year, the second half of the year will be a huge emphasis on that.
I think it will make a big impact on my game” she noted in the post-match press conference at Wimbledon after the second round defeat to Naomi Osaka. Grown up in the upmarket Leicestershire village of Woodhouse Eaves, one of the most expensive of the county, Boulter began playing tennis at age 5 trying to beat her brother James.
An avid Leicester City fan, Boulter has represented Britain since an early age: she won the Lemon Bowl in Rome at age 11 and made the final at 2011 Orange Bowl. Her mum was a tennis coach and one of the first people to really believe in her potential.
“Looking back on it, I’m really not sure how we did it, but it was very much a family effort. My mum would drive me to practice before or after school and my grandpa Brian would drive me across the country from match to match at the weekends,” she said The Telegraph.
Brian, her grandfather, has been one of her first heroes. A retired electronic manufacturer, Brian was also an inventor: he's the mind behind the now familiar anti-theft clothing tags. Boulter, a keen pianist with more than 45,000 followers on Instagram and more than 11,000 followers on Twitter, drew inspiration from Serena Williams.
“She’s a woman who through sheer hard work and talent has overcome so many barriers to become the best tennis player in the world,” Boulter told Vogue. The Brit claimed her first senior doubles title in November 2013 and in January 2014 was an Australian Open girls' doubles runner-up: partnering Ivana Jorovic, they surrendered in straight sets to Elizaveta Kulichkova and Anhelina Kalinina.
In May 2014, she won her first senior singles title over fellow Briton Eden Silva in Sharm el-Sheikh, where she played three straight ITF tournaments in both singles and doubles clinching three crowns. Sidelined for most of the 2016 campaign, she posted her first Top 200 season in 2017, finishing at No.199.
Last year, she made her main draw debut at Wimbledon, suffering a first-round loss to Christina McHale that left her “devastated” as she told reporters. During the match, she used to read quotes. “It's something myself and my coach and my team have talked about and it's something that helps me remind myself of what I have to do when I go out.
Yeah, I think it helped me a lot” she admitted. That match showed her mental toughness. “I think it's within you. It's the drive that pushes me along every single day. It just shows how much I want this and how much I want to be at this level.
Yeah, I have been working on it of course with my coaches and what have you, but a lot of it comes from me”. That sour memory, she said, hadn't any role in her first main draw win at Wimbledon last summer, beating Veronica Cepede-Royg.
“I think winning your first match at Wimbledon is always going to be extremely hard. I just tried to do the best I could. I mean, maybe I could have got that back in in the court at match point. At the end of the day, I got the win and I found a way to win” she said in the press conference.
“I think that experience last year has built me into who I am today. It didn't play any part today. I just tried to do the best I could at that moment, close out the match as quickly as I could”. Boulter opened the season winning her way through qualifying at Miami, falling to Hsieh at the first hurdle.
She won her fourth ITF title in the $25k event Obidos in April and followed it with the fifth crown, at the $60k tournament in Osaka, beating Lykina in the final. On grass, her preferred part of the season, she claimed the maiden WTA quarterfinal of her career at Nottingham.
She defeated Stosur in her first win over a Grand Slam winner before losing to eventual champion Barty. It was definitely my most memorable match to date," the World No.144 told Miss Vogue. "To beat a Grand Slam champion in front of a home crowd - there's nothing like it." In other grasscourt events, she completed a runner-up finish at $100k tournament in Southsea, lost to Hon in the quarterfinal at the $100k event in Surbiton, and twice to Osaka, at Birmingham first round and Wimbledon second round.
She finished the season on a high note as she beat No.42 Maria Sakkari, claiming her best ranking-wise career win, en route to her second tour-level quarter-final in Tianjin. She won the first set against Karolina Pliskova, who completed a 57 60 63 comeback victory.
The Brit looked more consistent from the mental point of view, as she owned a 25-4 win-loss record after winning the first set and a 14-11 mark in deciding sets at all levels. She also won six of the ten tiebreaks played and maintained a positive 15-12 record against higher-ranked opponents.
The best, it seems, is yet to come.