- By Michael Emmons
- BBC Sports
Becoming the British number one, winning her first WTA Tour title and moving up to a career-best ranking – it’s been quite a week for Katie Boulter, but she wants this to be just the beginning.
Boulter, 26, beat compatriot Jodie Burrage in the Nottingham Open final on Sunday and has jumped to 77th in the latest WTA rankings – five places better than her previous best of 82nd in February 2019.
“I’m at a career high and really happy but not satisfied and have a long way to go,” said Boulter, who described her Nottingham victory as something she had dreamed of since she was four years old.
“My goal is not to be top 100, it’s to be 50, 40, 30. Ever since I first broke through, I believed I had the game to be that player and that will always be my main focus. “
It has been a mixed few years for British women’s tennis.
But you only have to look back a few weeks for the low point.
There were also no Britons in the top 100 at the cut-off for this year’s Wimbledon, with British women instead relying on wildcards or having to battle through three qualifying rounds to appear at SW19.
But the Nottingham Open provided a much-needed shot in the arm for British women’s tennis.
With Raducanu missing the grass court season following hand and ankle operations, Boulter became only the 23rd player to become British women’s number one since the rankings began in 1975.
“Obviously I’m very proud to join the women before me who have reached that historic place,” Boulter said last Monday.
“This little girl would be proud if I told her one day she was going to be British number one. Whether it’s for a minute, a day or a year – it’s not my biggest goal, but it shows that I is heading in the right direction.”
The battle to retain the number one ranking became an interesting side story throughout Boulter’s rise in Nottingham.
Before the Nottingham Open, five players – Boulter (126th), Burrage (131st), Katie Swan (134th), Harriet Dart (143rd) and Heather Watson (195th) – had the chance to finish the tournament as British number one, while Raducanu (128th) would have regained the position without playing if these five had all lost in the first two rounds.
Instead, it turned out to be a record-breaking week.
Four Britons reached the quarter-finals for the first time in the WTA’s 50-year history, three of them progressing to the semi-finals ahead of the first all-British WTA final since Sue Barker beat Virginia Wade in San Francisco, USA on 28 February 1977.
Boulter played British opponents in four of his five rounds in Nottingham. If she had lost to Dart in their quarter-final or Burrage in the final, her stay at the top of British tennis would have lasted just seven days.
But the Championship win leaves Boulter 31 places above Burrage and with a strong chance of going into Wimbledon as British number one.
“Hopefully I can find some consistency and do this week after week – my challenge is to find consistency,” Boulter said.
That consistency will be tested this week as she will lose the 60 ranking points from reaching the Birmingham Classic quarter-finals last year and has a tough draw in this year’s event.
On Tuesday, she plays China’s Lin Zhu, world number 39, with Poland’s Magda Linette, 20th in the rankings, a potential opponent in the round of 16.
Meanwhile, Burrage, now ranked 108th and just two places off his career high, meets Dart, ranked 134th, in the opening round in Birmingham.
If Boulter loses in the first round, Burrage will need to reach the final to overtake her, while if Boulter wins on Tuesday, only a tournament title for Burrage will take her over Boulter’s points tally.
For Dart, who played then-world number one Ashleigh Barty on Center Court in the third round of Wimbledon in 2019, her only goal is to get back into the world’s top 100.
Asked about the race to become Britain’s number one, Dart, who spoke earlier this week, said: “Whether it’s now, never or later I don’t know, I’m just trying to focus on my own stuff. To be honest, I’d rather be in the top 20, and it may actually be something that comes with it.
“I just want to get my ranking back up there, that’s my only real focus. I want to finish the year back in the top 100, I spent all of last year inside it.”
‘Everyone plays so well’
“The rankings don’t lie, do they?” Evans said in May. “There are enough people playing junior tennis. We just don’t help them. It’s a narrow draw.”
But Watson, who was the British number one three times between 2012 and 2015 and reached the last 16 at Wimbledon last year – although she did not receive any ranking points for doing so – felt the British players were better than their rankings suggested.
“Everyone is playing so well at the moment and this group of girls that are in the 100s, myself included, I don’t feel like our rankings represent how well we’re playing,” Watson said.
“I know from practicing with them all the time that we all play better than that [their rankings]so I’m not surprised we were three in the semi-finals.”