Britain’s Katie Boulter from London gave a good account of herself in Melbourne, but did not have enough guns to overcome the 11th seed, Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus, to reach the second round of the Australian Open.
I’m going to stay focused on the right things, I’m not going to be thinking about winning or losing, I’m just going to do the same thing every day for the next year Katie Boulter
Sabalenka was last year’s WTA Newcomer of the Year and is a tour sensation at the age of just 20, having already won a tournament this year in Shenzhen.
Tipped as a dark horse to win the Australian Open, the Belarusian said on Monday that she didn’t want to talk about titles or she would go crazy.
Nevertheless, she is one of the favourites on the back of sizzling recent form, which saw her beat eight top 10 players late last season and win three WTA tournaments.
The Belarusian has one of the biggest games in women’s tennis, with a serve the envy of most players on tour, sending down a first delivery of 191km/h in round one.
Her backhand ball speed is right up there, too, at 139km/h, so she is able to take time away from her opponents like few others in the game.
That Boulter stood toe-to-toe against her for much of her 6-3 6-4 loss is to her credit.
Sabalenka, ranked at a career-high World No 11, used her fearsome power game to get past the rapidly improving Brit, the current World No 97, in their first-ever meeting, which lasted an hour and 13 minutes.
In fact, Boulter came out firing, withstanding Sabalenka’s power, and was rewarded with a break in the opening game after the Belarusian led 40-15.
Sabalenka fought through a tough game to break directly back, but over the first five games, the Brit stayed with the favoured seed and her power game.
Gradually Sabalenka began to take command, with a love break for 4-2, closing out that game with a blistering backhand return winner.
The Brit continued to fight, holding for 5-3 and opening the next game with consecutive return winners, putting her two points from getting back on serve, but the Belarusian had other designs, powering down strong serves to get her out of trouble and reach set point.
There, a forehand crosscourt winner sealed the one-set lead by the closest of margins, with Sabalenka striking 2 more winners and 2 fewer unforced errors than Boulter in the opening frame.
Boulter made the best of a very tough draw and deserves credit for her win over former top-10 player and Australian Open semi-finalist Ekaterina Makarova in round one.
“I put so much hard work in last year to get to this point right here,” the 22-year old said ahead of the match.
“I’m going to stay focused on the right things, I’m not going to be thinking about winning or losing, I’m just going to do the same thing every day for the next year.”
She also fought hard against Sabalenka and showed no signs of nerves on Melbourne Arena on Day 3, as if relishing the occasion, and getting more comfortable at playing at this level.
The towering 5’ 11’ presence of Sabalenka, however, is daunting at best, regularly putting Boulter on the back foot and her powerful shots earned a break the third game of the second set.
Boulter, nevertheless, held on and forced her opponent to serve out for the straight sets victory.
The Belarusian will now play 17-year-old American Amanda Anisimova in the third round and urged all Boulter’s fans to get behind her from now on.
“I’d like to ask all the guys supporting her [Boulter] that they should come to support me in the next match,” she said.
When asked about her chances at this Grand Slam, she added: “I just focus on each match. We will see. Who knows what will happen.
“I just want to be better with every match and improve on all things.”
Boulter’s loss leaves Johanna Konta as the last Briton standing in Melbourne after Dan Evans lost to Roger Federer in the second round on Wednesday.
Other Brits had already fallen in the opening round, with tough draws for British No 1 Kyle Edmund against Tomas Berdych, Harriet Dart against five-time Slam champion Maria Sharapova, while Heather Watson lost to seeded Petra Martic.
Cameron Norrie was perhaps the most disappointing result given his win over Taylor Fritz in the week building up to the event, while Andy Murray’s spirited exit to Roberto Bautista Agut warmed the hearts of the British public.
Now it is up to Konta to maintain interest from the UK’s perspective beyond Thursday, but she faces the daunting task of two-time Grand Slam winner Garbiñe Muguruza.
Konta has beaten her twice before and both have dipped in form, and ranking over the past two years, but the former World No 1 will head into that one as the favourite to advance.
Should Konta go out, there will be no British singles action at the weekend or beyond and that just highlights how much Murray will be missed.
Well tried Katie