Inside Katie Boulter’s climb up the rankings – by her coach

Katie Boulter celebrates with the trophy after victory in the Women's singles final match against Jodie Burrage in Nottingham
Katie Boulter has soared from 157 in the rankings at this point last year, to a current 28 - PA/Nigel French

Katie Boulter’s coach says that the British No 1 is on a similar career path to Johanna Konta – the late bloomer who led the national rankings for much of the 2010s – and should reach the world’s top 10 at her current rate of progress.

Boulter, who is due to play alongside Emma Raducanu this weekend in a Billie Jean King Cup showdown against France, has climbed to No 28 on the ladder, after winning the biggest title of her life in San Diego a month ago.

Such eminence must feel unfamiliar to a player who had barely appeared inside the world’s top 100 until last summer. But could there be more to come?

Biljana Veselinovic believes that Boulter, 27, is still playing catch-up physically, having been hampered by the spinal stress fracture she suffered in 2019 as well as a bout of chronic fatigue in her late teens. Once Boulter levels up her strength and endurance, Veselinovic argues, she should be able to find another gear.

“I always knew that Katie had that top-30, top-20 possibility or talent,” said Veselinovic, the Serbian coach who started working with Boulter during the 2022-23 off-season. “But I didn’t think that she is going to do it so fast. Now I’m very excited because she’s motivated more than ever.

iljana Veselinovic. She is Katie Boulter's coach and one of the few female coaches in tennis. David Rose for the Telegraph National Tennis Centre, SW15 3rd
Boulter's coach Biljana Veselinovic has spoken highly of her potential - David Rose for The Telegraph

“I am lucky in that her technique is pretty clean. I just encouraged her to add a little more wrist action so that she gets more shape on the ball. Physically, though, she is a lot stronger. Everyone who saw her in Australia after six weeks of pre-season said that you can see the muscles. During the United Cup [where Boulter scored a career-best win over world No 5 Jessica Pegula] she was able to stay lower on her shots, and she was getting in and out of the corners much better.”

‘If she stays healthy she can make the top 10’

Veselinovic credited Matt Little, who also looks after Andy Murray’s physical training, for the work he did with Boulter before Christmas, although she was also careful to throw in a mention for the Lawn Tennis Association’s fitness coaches.

Katie Boulter of Great Britain hits a backhand against Brenda Fruhvirtova of the Czech Republic in the first round of the Miami Open at Hard Rock Stadium on March 21, 2024 in Miami Gardens, Florida
Boulter's stronger physique was noticeable at the start of the year, says her coach - Getty Images

Even on the practice court, their work together has prioritised conditioning. “You’ve probably noticed that hard courts and balls are becoming slower,” said Veselinovic. “When a match starts a deciding set, the clock already says two hours at least. So we decided to make our sessions longer, two-and-a-half hours on court, with another session of physical work in the afternoon.

“The other thing Katie did differently is that she’s working during the tournament week. The only day that she doesn’t do extra is the day before the match. This is possible because the [fitness] base was made the year before. If we keep pushing, if she stays healthy, that’s going to help us go further than top 20, to the top 10.”

Veselinovic has worked with enough quality players, including Lucie Safarova (who peaked at No 5), Alize Cornet (11), Petra Martic (14) and Katarina Srebotnik (20), to know whereof she speaks. Many of these players enjoyed mid-career boosts, with Sretbotnik achieving her peak position at 26, Safarova at 28 and Martic at 29.

It was a similar story with Konta, even if Veselinovic’s role with the LTA, which began in the summer of 2019, never brought them together on a formal basis. Having finally cracked the world’s top 100 at 24 years and three months – a figure which would once have been considered middle-aged in women’s tennis – Konta accelerated up the chart and became a top-10 player just over a year later.

‘Katie has a very good environment, she doesn’t get homesick’

Aside from the daily tests thrown up by the match court, success on the WTA Tour often relies on putting up with the abnormal lifestyle. A female coach can be helpful here, as can a partner who is regularly present at the same tournaments. Boulter enjoys both of these advantages – the first through Veselinovic and the second through her Australian boyfriend, world No 11 Alex de Minaur.

ews Katie Boulter and Alex de Minaur vs Joran Vliegen and Yifan Xu on court no2 Wimbledon day 7 9 July 2023
Boulter and boyfriend Alex de Minaur have competed in mixed doubles together - Heathcliff O'Malley for The Telegraph

The relationship issue is usually less of a problem for male players. Even in 2024, it remains more socially acceptable for a non-tennis-playing girlfriend to accept the role of travelling partner than the boyfriend of a WTA star.

“Katie doesn’t get homesick,” said Veselinovic. “She’s created a very good environment around her and she’s a happy person. When she comes on the court, she’s always in a good mood. It makes a difference.”

The next couple of days – and indeed months – might test that equanimity. Remarkably, Boulter has never played a single WTA-level match on European red clay. And now she is about to go into a BJK Cup tie on the surface against Caroline Garcia and (probably) Clara Burel.

“The choice of surface is a big advantage,” says Veselinovic of this BJK Cup qualifier, which will be played near Calais in a small town called Le Portel. “Before they are 18, the French youngsters have already played 200 matches on clay.

“But I’m so happy with the first three days of Katie’s practice [which took place on red-clay courts at the LTA’s Roehampton headquarters in south-west London]. She’s quite natural. So yes, it’s just the belief, the trust. She needs to develop that. But it’s a strong British team, so let’s see what happens.”

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