Katie Boulter was the best younger British player on the block 15 months ago. She was finally soaring, with a career-high ranking of 82 and vicious strokes that she found could pierce the armour of the best. Naomi Osaka called her “really good” at Wimbledon 2018 and she looked it too as she played an instrumental role in Great Britain’s return to the Fed Cup world group II, winning six of her seven Fed Cup matches including the decisive rubber at home against Kazakhstan in April 2019.
Life should have been good. Instead, that was the last time Boulter would be seen for months as her efforts at the Copper Box came at a cost to her back. She surfaced again when she took advantage of the French Open’s new rules by withdrawing late and picking up $20,000, 50% of prize money. She did not play again until November.
Speaking with a small group of journalists on Zoom, the 23-year-old said the coronavirus pandemic came at precisely the wrong time for her career. “Personally I was pretty sad because I felt like I had finally got my game to a really good place and I was ready to compete.”
However, it has allowed her to look beyond the insular world of tennis. She cannot meet up with her grandfather, Brian, in Leicester so she is preparing to volunteer with Age UK, which will give her contact with older people again.
“What they do is they pair you with up to three people,” she said. “You can either go and see them, talk to them over the phone, go and do their shopping for them and basically just try and help them make their lives a little bit easier. Hopefully they won’t be so lonely. It keeps them busy.”
At her London flat Boulter is hosting fellow British player Laura Robson, who is rehabilitating from hip surgery. They have been following the Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality in the US and she highlighted the “incredible”, moving protest video by many of her colleagues, created by her friend, the American men’s player Frances Tiafoe.
“I think the whole situation is pretty tragic and personally I would say it is very unacceptable to see the way that these people have been treated in this era,” she said. “I would have hoped that we could have moved on from this but it is clearly a worldwide problem and I really hope that everyone can get together and use their platforms to find a way to spread awareness.”
As she builds from scratch once again, Boulter is using this period to become more comfortable on clay, a surface she is still unfamiliar with. Whenever the tour returns, she will be there. “I’m a competitor so I’m looking forward to just competing and any opportunity I get to do that, that will be my sole focus,” she said. “Clearly if I think there’ll be any health issues with that, then I’ll be very cautious with it but I have complete faith in what they do and they will make the right decisions with this call.”
Katie Boulter is a member of the LTA’s Pro Scholarship Programme, the highest level of support offered to developing elite players.