By Sudipto Ganguly
(Reuters) – Playing for the first time on Wimbledon’s Centre Court with the crowd emphatically behind their local hope, a nervous Aryna Sabalenka did not know what to do for a long time during her second round match on Wednesday.
It was not surprising, therefore, that the second-seeded Belarusian soon found herself down a set against 219th-ranked Briton Katie Boulter and staring at another disappointing loss at the grasscourt major, where she has not gone past the second round.
But Sabalenka dug deep to find the tenacity and focus to outlast her opponent, winning 4-6 6-3 6-3, a victory that filled her with pride.
“I’m proud that I actually could get through this match because I was really emotional in the beginning and I didn’t really feel the surface out there,” the world number four told reporters.
“She was playing really great. Of course, crowd was supporting her more. I felt like everything was against me, and I’m really happy that I could separate myself from the people and everything, and just think about my game, what I have to do.
“So, yeah, really proud that I could stay focused and keep fighting for every opportunity I had.”
The absence of Naomi Osaka and Simona Halep from the tournament has handed Sabalenka her highest seeding at a major.
She had no clue about what to expect when she stepped on to the manicured grass of Centre Court on Wednesday.
“When I stepped in, the first points, I was kind of like, ‘Whoa, what’s going on? Where is the ball? What should I do?’ I didn’t really know what to do in that moment.
“I was really nervous. I’m really happy that I could – how to say – deal with all pressure and all emotions, yeah, and get through this unbelievable crazy match.
“(But) this is what we’re here for, for great battles, to challenge ourselves. This match is actually (kind of) matches which help us to become better player. Of course I enjoy it. I enjoy this atmosphere … it was pressure which I really liked.”
(Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly in Mumbai; editing by Toby Davis)