Did Harriet Dart’s tie-break tears knock Katie Boulter out of Wimbledon?

Harriet Dart reacts after clinching victory over Katie Boulter (Getty)
Harriet Dart reacts after clinching victory over Katie Boulter (Getty)

It is the deciding tie-break, and Harriet Dart is losing 6-2 and on the edge of defeat when she walks to the back of Wimbledon’s No 1 Court and begins to cry. Katie Boulter steps to the baseline to begin her service routine, looks up to see Dart’s head buried in her hands, and steps away again. And, whether by design or by accident, whether real or imagined, in that moment this wild match seems to slip from Boulter’s grasp.

The crowd utters a sympathetic roar as Dart wipes away tears, bereft and beaten. Boulter resets. But Dart comes out swinging, winning the next four points to draw level at 6-6 in a race to 10. At 8-8, Boulter’s nemesis all day – her own forehand – sends two balls flying out of bounds, and at the end of three hours of absorbing, error-strewn tennis, Dart has won 4-6, 6-1, 7-6 (8), through to the third round, matching her grand-slam best. She collapses to the grass and grins.

At which point, it is worth exploring whether this was entirely fair on Boulter. Dart had been emotional throughout, crying at the change of ends earlier in the third set when Boulter had broken back, slamming her racket against her bag in frustration. On several occasions, she chuntered angrily at herself, at her corner, at the grass beneath her feet. Boulter kept her cool and, at the end, offered Dart a gracious hug at the net when she must have been hurting.

Dart wipes away tears during her second-round match with Boulter (EPA)
Dart wipes away tears during her second-round match with Boulter (EPA)

Afterwards, a clearly upset Boulter was magnanimous, insisting the better player won. How off-putting was the emotional ride unfurling on the other side of the net? “I mean, I don’t know,” she said a little hesitantly. “I tried not to look too much.” Did the break in rhythm bother her? “I wouldn’t say so. I think she kind of just relaxed a little bit. She was 6-2 down, she’s got nothing to lose at that point.”

If fans had filled Court 1 hoping to see the well-publicised beef between Britain’s top two players unfold, what they got were the understandable results of that rivalry: frayed nerves, tense hands and visceral frustration. “I wear my emotions on my sleeve and unfortunately you see all of that,” Dart said on court after her victory.

Together they served up 21 double faults and more than a century of unforced errors. During the middle portion of the match when her forehand went haywire, Boulter hit more home runs than winners. And yet, scattered amid some genuinely enthralling rallies, it all added to the drama, never knowing quite whether the ball would hit the tramline or the rafters.

Their relationship goes back to childhood and beyond – their mothers played against one another and the daughters, born only four days apart, grew up competing at the top of the girls’ junior ranks.

The British rivals embrace at the net (AFP/Getty)
The British rivals embrace at the net (AFP/Getty)

They have shared fiery matches in Nottingham in recent times. Last year, Dart took issue with Boulter pointing at her head in celebration, saying: “I know you’re doing it towards me, it’s not professional.” Boulter insisted: “It’s nothing personal, mate, I do it every match.” Then there was the line call in their epic battle last month which infuriated Dart so much that she wagered the umpire £50,000 she was wrong and told her she “should be embarrassed”.

Boulter has dominated their head-to-head record, leading 6-1, having won that match in Nottingham en route to defending her title. But that tight contest showed just how closely matched they can be when Dart’s game is firing, and she competed gamely here.

Reunited here at Wimbledon, they talked beforehand of “respect” for a “tough match”. Both players repeated a line about being teammates in the Billie Jean King Cup, and Dart tried to downplay any rift, saying: “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.”

There were plenty of fierce screams in the direction of their boxes and the crowd, but the pair were cordial with one another, offering little apologies when etiquette demanded. Late in the first set, Dart produced a beautifully controlled lob which landed just inside the baseline and a beaten Boulter applauded with her racket above her head.

Boulter’s forehand misfired for most of the match (Getty)
Boulter’s forehand misfired for most of the match (Getty)

The first set was a long, hard grind, lasting almost an hour as the pair traded blows from the baseline and frequently met at deuce. Boulter’s point of attack was Dart’s second serve: as soon as a first serve bounced out, she took one of her giant strides forward and bounced intimidatingly on the baseline. Dart felt the effects, throwing up seven double faults in the first set as she tried in vain to add a little oomph. Boulter’s single break was enough, winning 6-4.

But the first game of the second set created a momentum shift. Dart sprung off her chair to win the first three points and earn three break points. Boulter saved the first, but her next serve was so wretched it bounced before it even reached the net. The crowd gasped and giggled, Boulter seemed flustered and, a moment later, boomed a forehand long to give up the early break. Dart soon wrapped up the second set 6-1.

She broke early in the third set too, but Boulter hung in and held on, briefly relocating her forehand when she needed it most. She broke a furious Dart, who went to her corner and covered her face in a towel, the intensity rising. But it was Dart who found a way through a see-saw tie-break, and it is Dart who will play China’s world No 40, Wang Xinyu, in the third round. Boulter departed while holding back the tears.

Women’s singles round-up

Iga Swiatek underlined her status as the world’s top player with an efficient 6-4 6-3 victory over Croatian Petra Martic at Wimbledon, her 21st match win in a row.

The 23-year-old Pole triumphed at the Madrid and Rome Opens as well as taking the Roland Garros title, before switching to the grass and reaching the third round.

Swiatek, who has won five grand slams but has never progressed beyond the quarter-finals here, looked comfortable on the Centre Court grass, though she was tested at times by Martic’s hefty serve and groundstrokes.

“I’m happy to play in a solid way,” Swiatek said. “I felt like I had control in most of the games when Petra served, but I couldn’t really break it. I’m happy that I broke twice. That was a necessary thing to do to win these sets.”

Two-time Wimbledon runner-up Ons Jabeur secured her place in the third round before she pleaded with tournament schedulers to allow her to watch England’s quarter-final at Euro 2024.

Football-fan Jabeur eased past American qualifier Robin Montgomery to set up a clash with Elina Svitolina on Saturday, a match which could be on a show court and clash with the Three Lions’ 5pm kick-off against Switzerland.

After the world No 10 found time to watch Jude Bellingham’s late equaliser in England’s comeback win over Slovakia last Sunday and Portugal’s dramatic penalty shoot-out success, the 29-year-old is hopeful of seeing more Euros action this weekend.

“I’ve been watching a lot of the matches,” Jabeur revealed after a 6-1 7-5 victory on Court Two. “A bit disappointed with some matches. I thought it was going to be more exciting.

“I was watching Portugal last time. When Cristiano (Ronaldo) missed the penalty, I was crying with him because I love him so much. I watched England when they came back. I was really stressed. I wanted them to win. The last-minute scoring is unbelievable. Jude, how you can take the risk on that ball.

“Yeah, I’m a huge football fan and I hope I can get the chance to watch (England). I feel like I really created a great connection with the crowd here. It’s, like, pure love. Like nothing behind it. It’s people, like, supporting me.

“Maybe they don’t follow a lot of tennis, maybe they follow tennis, I don’t know. For me, it felt sincere. I felt a great energy that comes from them. I’m someone that relies on energy.”

Last year’s semi-finalist Svitolina, seeded 21st, defeated Germany’s Jule Niemeier 6-3 6-4.