The day after British No 1 Jo Konta was forced into isolation Katie Boulter stepped up to carry the flag for the home challenge.
Amid defeats for Katie Swan, Jodie Burrage and Heather Watson, Boulter saved Britain’s female contingent from a day-one wipeout.
But the 24-year-old from Leicester ground down American qualifier Danielle Lao 6-7, 6-3, 6-4 to set up a second-round date with big-hitting Belarusian Arnya Sabalenka, the No 2 seed.
Katie Boulter won her match on a disappointing day for British women at Wimbledon
‘Having been absent for a couple years, it really means so much,’ said Boulter. ‘Ultimately it wasn’t pretty out there, I knew it wasn’t going to be. But I fought so hard, found a way. I feel like that’s what tennis is really about.’
Tall and with easy power, Boulter has risen as high as 82 in the world and looks to have the most potential of the younger generation of Brits.
It was her first appearance at the All England Club for three years and, given the circumstances, this really was a terrific display.
Having suffered a back injury which kept her out of Wimbledon in 2019, Boulter then picked up a right elbow issue just as she was going well in Nottingham earlier this month.
Boulter picked up an elbow injury whilst playing at Nottingham earlier this month
That elbow was thoroughly bandaged during the match and heavily iced afterwards.
‘At the moment it feels great,’ she said of the injury. ‘Ultimately I’m managing it this tournament. It didn’t hinder me in any way.’
Boulter arrived late to Court 17 and her game took some time to show up too as she fell 5-2 down.
She had a couple of spats with umpire Mohamed Lahyani, which could have been the jolt she needed to get back on level terms and force a tiebreak.
Lao — a tricky, scurrying opponent — edged the breaker 8-6 but there were increasing signs that Boulter was finding her range.
Boulter survived some tricky moments to defeat Danielle Lao (left) in straight sets
By the end, she looked comfortably the better player, dominating with her serve and easy power. Boulter was cheered on by her mother and grandfather, as well as her boyfriend Alex de Minaur, the Australian world No 15.
‘It feels pretty special to be back home, in front of a British crowd,’ said Boulter. ‘It really does make a difference.’
For Swan and Burrage, by contrast, it felt as though the setting was more of a hindrance than a help.
Burrage struggled on her SW19 debut, beset by nerves which had accumulated during the near five-hour rain delay before her match. The wildcard went down 6-2, 6-1 to experienced American Lauren Davis. ‘I have been looking forward to this for a long time and I feel like that’s why what happened today in the match happened,’ said the 22-year-old Londoner. ‘I am pretty disappointed in myself.’
Jodie Burrage lost in straight sets on her Wimbledon debut to American Lauren Davis
Swan also felt nerves in her 3-6, 4-6 loss to No 23 seed Keys. ‘I just think it was the occasion,’ said Swan.
‘I wanted to put in a good performance at Wimbledon and I think that’s why I felt a little bit nervous.’
Watson’s defeat was the hardest to take, as she looked in control for much of a winnable match against American Kristie Ahn.
The 29-year-old had a match point in the deciding set but Ahn won 2-6, 7-6, 8-6 in over three hours under the Court One roof.