Katie Boulter believes top-level tennis could benefit from some of the innovations – PA
Despite a lowly ranking just inside the top 400, Katie Boulter still finds herself the star attraction – and clear favourite – at the Progress Tour Women’s Championships, after the withdrawal of four players since the weekend.
Katie Swan and Eden Silva both pulled out on Tuesday, after the two top seeds Heather Watson and Harriet Dart had done the same on Monday. But Boulter – who missed the bulk of last season with a spinal stress fracture – was unperturbed as she eased past late call-up Alice Gillan by a 6-1, 6-4 margin.
“It was really nice to be back out there,” said Boulter after her first competitive match for 19 weeks. “It’s been a mix of emotions. I want to be back playing how I was, but the reality is I am going to be a bit rusty, and I have to keep focused and keep battling away until I find my rhythm.”
The oddity here is that none of the players who withdrew had hit a ball on a match court since lockdown began in March. Whereas many of those playing in Roehampton – notably Jodie Burrage and Freya Christie – have been in constant motion for the last two weeks.
“I’ve played 12 singles matches in 13 days” said Burrage on Tuesday, after romping to a 6-2, 6-3 win over Emily Arbuthnott. “I was feeling it in my legs this morning, but my body is holding up fine.”
The National Tennis Centre in Roehampton has also been in constant use since Jamie Murray’s Battle of the Brits heralded the return of elite matchplay just over three weeks ago.
Since Dan Evans took the spoils at that first event, we have since seen two weeks of British Tour tennis at the same venue. Meanwhile, another independent tournament has sprung up at St George’s Hill in Weybridge, Surrey, which will rumble on over the next month. On Sunday, Burrage beat her sometime doubles partner Christie in the first of five finals, each concluding a week’s action in the SGH Tennis Series.
“Honestly it’s been so good, the last two weeks,” said Burrage, who is supported by the Lawn Tennis Association through their PSP programme. “It’s been pretty full-on, but I put in the hard work during lockdown, and now it’s paying off on court.”
We aren’t talking about huge prizemoney – not by Wimbledon standards, anyway. The winner of this week’s Progress Tour is due to receive £6,000. But for Burrage, who had just moved into a flat not far from the All England Club shortly before lockdown, these cheques add up.
“I am looking to rent the other room of my flat but I can’t find anyone at the moment,” she told Telegraph Sport. “Is anyone interested?”