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Why Dart vs Boulter is the fiercest rivalry in British tennis



Why Dart vs Boulter is the fiercest rivalry in British tennis

WIMBLEDON — When Katie Boulter and Harriet Dart take to No 1 Court on Thursday, there will be more than a place in the third round of Wimbledon on the line. This is a British pair who have faced each other for the best part of 25 years – in a rivalry that has not always been friendly.

Born just four days apart, they have been pitted against each other throughout their ascent to the top of British tennis, competing for LTA favour and funding in every step of their climb. Even Boulter and Dart’s mothers went toe-to-toe on the British circuit back in the day.

Boulter is now sitting at the top of the British tennis tree, ranked top after overcoming years of fitness struggles due to serious injuries, and is seeded for the first time at a major. Dart meanwhile is hovering around the top 100 mark and has lost to Boulter the last three times they faced each other on tour – including a tightly-fought three-hour thriller in the Nottingham first round just a few weeks ago.

Boulter leads their overall head-to-head 6-1, and her more powerful, stronger serving game has usually overwhelmed Dart. But form may only be part of the story on Thursday, in their first ever meeting at a major.

They have had some fiery previous encounters, in particular during last year’s grass court season. When they played each other in the Nottingham quarterfinals, Dart took issue with Boulter’s celebration, after she pointed to her head in apparent reference to her mental strength. Dart pointed to her own head and said: “I know you’re doing it towards me. It’s not professional.”

Boulter immediately hit back, saying, “It’s nothing personal. Mate, I do it every single match. Every match.”

From the outside, that frosty exchange at the net was a moment verging on pettiness, the kind of argument two sisters might have during a competitive hit. That tension is said to only come to the boil on court though, as Boulter and Dart are part of a close-knit British team, who have shown support for each other during Billie Jean King Cup fixtures, including in the last year since that Nottingham match.

“I mean, we’re team-mates,” Dart said of Boulter on Tuesday. “We played big tournaments. We’ve grown up together. We’ve been close. It’s always going to be tricky, whoever I play, especially when you play a fellow Brit.

“But it’s great to see that all of us are doing well and putting us in positions where we do get to play each other, hopefully more so in the latter rounds. She’s been having an amazing year, she’s been playing great. [I] expect a very tough match.”

That aside, their latest meeting in the first round at Nottingham a few weeks ago still saw tempers flare again. Dart lost her cool, betting the umpire £50,000 that her call had been wrong. “The ball is so far out, this is embarrassing,” Dart said. “You’re embarrassing yourself. You should be embarrassed.”

Boulter chose not to engage this time, and said on Tuesday that the 6-7, 6-4, 7-5 win would “absolutely” be a confidence boost to take into their battle in the second round. “For me, every single match counts. I think we both know each other’s games inside-out, back-to-front at this point. We’ve played so many matches. But I do have to draw on the last things that I have played with her and use that to my advantage in the next round. I think it’s going to be extremely tough.”

She added of Dart: “I have a lot of respect for her on this surface. It’s one of her favourite ones. This is actually her home club. She’s been here since she was a tiny tot with her mom. She’s grown up here. I know how tough it’s going to be. I think it’s exciting. You have two Brits here who are playing some very good tennis. She’s someone that’s going to make it very hard for me. I’m going to have to bring my A game.”

The crowd may well be split on the No 1 Court, but both Dart and Boulter at least have experience on the big stage – if not the greatest success. Though Boulter won on her Centre Court debut two years ago to Karolina Pliskova, she was overcome by the occasion on the same court last year, losing to former champion Elena Rybakina 6-1, 6-1. Dart was also well beaten by the former world No 1 Ash Barty in the same arena five years ago by the same scoreline.

Dart is the underdog again on Thursday, but she sounded up for the challenge: “I’ve played many times on big courts on big occasions here. I think the first time I played on a big show court was actually for mixed doubles. I felt like that gave me the experience of being able to play on the court before playing a singles match really helped me. I also played a third round in 2019 on Centre. I feel like I can try to use that as much as possible.”

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