Wimbledon is renowned for being strict with the annual home wildcards the tournament doles out each year, frequently opting for in-form international representation rather than scraping the local barrel.
This year, though, the All England Lawn Tennis Club was able to reward a cohort of British women who have been steadily rising through the ranks over the past 18 months, with six of eight wildcards going to home hopes. The Brit pack was led by 21-year-old Katie Boulter, fresh off her maiden WTA Tour quarterfinal in Nottingham - and the Leicester native would justify The Championships' faith in her by defeating Veronica Cepede Royg in the first round for her debut Slam victory, and going on to become the 32nd British player to crack the Top 100 in October.
Boulter's career-best year was one in which she steadily hit milestone after milestone, demonstrating a level of consistency that went far beyond the grass season. In February, she notched up her maiden Top 100 win at the Rancho Santa Fe $25,000 ITF event, shocking Taylor Townsend 6-3, 7-5 in the first round - and a month later, Boulter reprised that upset, defeating Townsend again en route to qualifying for her first Premier Mandatory main draw in Miami.
A career-best title followed in May at the ITF $60,000 tournament in Fukuoka, setting Boulter up for a stellar grass swing that included two wins over former Top 20 players - Yanina Wickmayer and Samantha Stosur - in Nottingham, and a run to the ITF $100,000 Southsea final.
Proving that this run of form wasn't just down to home advantage, Boulter continued to thrive at her new level. October saw her defeat Alison Riske en route to qualifying for another Premier Mandatory main draw in Beijing, and that was followed by a career-best 7-6(4), 6-3 win over Maria Sakkari en route to a second WTA Tour quarterfinal in Tianjin. There, in her first ever match against a Top 10 player, Boulter would take the first set from Karolina Pliskova before eventually falling 5-7, 6-0, 6-3.
1. Boulter's breakthrough has come just three years after being forced to miss the entirety of the 2015 season.
"I had an illness for the full year," the 22-year-old reveals. "It was a really tough time for me, but I wouldn’t change it for anything, as it taught me a lot about myself and made me who I am today. It was definitely a driver to how I operate and work now."
The mystery condition was all the more galling, as Boulter had reached a career high of World No.347 as an 18-year-old at the end of 2014 - but was forced to start again from scratch with no ranking in February 2016. Still, the experience made her stronger in the end - and Boulter never had any doubt that she would return to tennis.
"There were lows for sure during that year, but I think I used that pain in the right way. Just my love of the sport was my biggest motivation," she says.
2. The grass swing was the most memorable part of Boulter's season - but she's been careful not to focus too much on it.
"I don't think anything will ever beat your first slam win," says Boulter when asked which of her 2018 highlights stands out the most. "On home ground made it extremely special. However, making the quarters in Nottingham where I actually grew up training was also close to my heart."
It's not uncommon for lower-ranked local players to have a moment of glory playing above their level at home, buoyed by a partisan crowd and familiar conditions. What was impressive about Boulter's progress in 2018 was the way in which she carried her form consistently outside of the frenzied bubble of the British grass swing: on Miami hard courts, Japanese ITF events and the Asian swing towards end of the year that saw her finish the season at a round World No.100.
"It's very easy to get overly focused on the grass court season," acknowledges Boulter. "But luckily I have a really great team around me to remind myself to stay focused on doing my day job all year round. It's very important to use the inspiration from the grass and work even harder."
It's no surprise, then, that despite enjoying the spotlight, Boulter ultimately sees no difference between matches on show courts versus those in deserted ITFs. "I enjoy matches that have atmosphere and pressure on them," she says. "But you can also put me out on Court 20 and I'm gonna put the exact same thing out and enjoy what I do."
3. Boulter's team includes new coach Jeremy Bates - but there are a few more people she'd like to thank.
Boulter has worked with Bates for several years through the LTA, but 2019 will see the former ATP Top 100 player travel with her in a formal coach partnership - "which is exciting", she says. But he's not the only one who's been in her corner.
"There's my family and mum, who's been with me every step of the way," says Boulter. "They make me into who I am today and I wouldn't be able to do what I do without them. My agency KIN, too - I just recently started with them and think they will be a great addition to my team.
"And lastly the LTA. Over many years they and their support staff have helped me through the highs and lows and I wouldn't be in the position I am if it wasn't for them."
4. It's all about the process for Boulter.
Sneaking into the Top 100 with just a couple of weeks of the season to spare was an important achievement - but not one that Boulter had specifically focused on.
"I had two main objectives this year," she reveals. "One was to consolidate a decent year before - and secondly to maintain my health and improve physically."
The same holds true as Boulter prepares for her first full WTA Tour swing in 2019. She describes her game as something in a continual state of improvement: "I would like to say I'm an aggressive baseliner," she muses. "However, I love volleying and mixing things up. I think there are a lot of aspects to my game I'm proud with - but I'm not satisfied yet, as everything can be improved."
To this end, her preparations for 2019 are all about the process rather than setting ranking goals. "I'm quite a process-driven person," she declares. "My main goal is to continue to gain physical strength and keep working as hard as I can."
There's one specific thing on Boulter's bucket list, though - and happily enough, she'll get to tick it off immediately. "I would love to play Serena!" she exclaims.
"She's an icon in our sport - and luckily Hopman Cup [in which Boulter will partner Kyle Edmund] is going to give me the honour to share the court with her."
5. Off court, Boulter is a fashionista - and a lover of football and music.
"Rule numero uno - nails MUST match the outfit," Boulter posted on Instagram in September, and she says that fashion is an important side of her. "I love putting outfits together - and attending London Fashion Week when I can."
Otherwise, her off-court interests include her favourite football team, Leicester City - "They have been an inspiration in my career, so I love to watch them when I can" - and keeping her music playlists updated: "It's something I use to get me through a lot of training," she admits. "It varies from Drake to Liam Payne, depending on what mood I'm in."