The scoreboard told the story. After 56 minutes of complete domination, of punishing forehands and thumping serves from the racket of Elena Rybakina, Katie Boulter’s exit was as swift as the contest that had preceded it. Boulter had waited all afternoon and into the evening to take to Centre Court and for the match of the day to arrive, but as the defending Wimbledon champion closed out a 6-1 6-1 win that was as completely one-sided as it looks, Boulter was relieved for it all to be over.
With it, British hopes in the men’s and women’s singles are too. It has been a brutal two days for the home players, after Andy Murray, Cameron Norrie and Liam Broady all suffered the same fate on Friday night. But after reaching the third round, Boulter faced the most difficult task out of them all in Rybakina, who came into her tournament defence after having her preparations disrupted by illness but had since found her confidence and rhythm upon returning to the grass courts of the All England Club.
Rybakina represented an obvious step up in class. It was apparent by the ominous thuds of her powerful first serve finding its spots and the unerring accuracy of her forehand strike. The 24-year-old has an ability to be so dominant and produce the most vicious attacks while making everything appear so easy and elegant. It won her the title last year, even though Rybakina still carries the air of a player who is yet to burst into stardom and is comfortable flying under the radar.
But Wimbledon, in its own way, is warming to her, and the more she plays like this on Centre Court, the deeper its collective sense of respect will grow. Against Boulter, Rybakina played at an astonishingly high level and although there will be sterner tests to come in what is a loaded part of the women’s draw, it is hard to see how anyone can stop her from retaining her title if she continues to play like this.
With that in mind, Boulter should not be too hard on herself. There are still plenty of positives to take from her week and overall grass-court season, but the world No 89 was unable to deploy the aggressive, inside-the-baseline approach that had been key to her previous victories against Daria Saville and Viktoriya Tomova. Boulter didn’t do too much wrong to start the match, but with Rybakina ramping up the pressure with her clean ball-striking, the British No 1 elected to play a drop shot that failed to beat the net and brought the first break of the match.
Rybakina did not look back, winning seven games in a row to take the match away from Boulter, robbing her of any spirit or belief. Rybakina’s dominant weapon was unrelenting, consistently firing 120mph serves, while her play at the net was assured. Boulter was always on the back-foot and Rybakina was in total control of the baseline rallies, playing on another level to her opponent.
A four-hour match between Carlos Alcaraz and Nicolas Jarry had forced the day’s schedule back on middle Saturday. Ons Jabeur and Bianca Andreescu playing out three sets, interrupted by a 45-minute rain suspension and the closing of roof, meant that Boulter and Rybakina were pushed back even further When the players eventually took to Centre Court at 9pm, the Wimbledon curfew also loomed for the third night in a row.
Rybakina soon dismissed any risk it would not reach a conclusion. The home crowd, which saw many stay late after a long day, tried their best to support Boulter, but even their shouts of encouragement appeared feeble in the face of what Rybakina was producing. Boulter needed more, but there was also so much she could do. How do you match Rybakina when she is on this kind of form? It’s down to the rest of the tournament to figure that out.