No.2 seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus got through a challenging tussle against a home favorite on Centre Court at Wimbledon on Wednesday, outlasting British wildcard Katie Boutler, 4-6, 6-3, 6-3, to reach the third round.
"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," Sabalenka told the press after her comeback win. "[Boulter] was playing really great."
Despite her lofty seeding, this is the first time Sabalenka has won two main-draw matches at Wimbledon. The World No.4 reached the second round in her main-draw debut in 2017 before suffering first-round defeats in 2018 and 2019.
Sabalenka nearly experienced another second-round exit in London as she needed all of her power to grit past World No.219 Boulter. The pair had previously met in the same round at the 2019 Australian Open, where Sabalenka needed just two sets to see off the Brit, but this time, the second seed had to battle for two hours and six minutes before triumphing.
"This is what we're here for, for great battles, to challenge ourselves," Sabalenka said. "This match is actually [one of the] matches which help us to become a better player.
"Of course, I enjoy it. I enjoy this atmosphere, everything that I was trying to deal with. I think because of that I won this match, because it was pressure, but it was pressure which I really liked."
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Sabalenka's 30 unforced errors were more than double Boulter's total, but the Belarusian converted five of her six break points, while Boulter held 12 break points but only took three of those chances.
The crowd was thrilled by the fight from Boulter, who is attempting to return to the Top 100 after a stress fracture in her back forced her out for much of 2019, but the Brit still was left searching for her first win over a Top 20 opponent.
"I think my first and only takeaway is that it's definitely the best court in the world," Boulter said, in her post-match press conference. "I'd not had a chance to play on it yet, that's my first time. I absolutely loved every minute out there. The British crowd were incredible. I thought it was a really good match, one I won't forget."
Boulter added that Sabalenka is "clearly a champion for a reason. Those are the people that play the best points at the most important points. She did that today. It got her out of trouble a couple of times.
"I obviously felt like I had quite a few break points and didn't manage to take them. I also didn't feel like I gave them away. She had to win them, she won them. Certainly I've got no regrets about that at all."
Earlier on Wednesday, No.3 seed Elina Svitolina of Ukraine survived a first-round challenge from Alison van Uytvanck of Belgium at Wimbledon, prevailing 6-3, 2-6, 6-3 on Court No.1.
Svitolina, who became the first Ukrainian woman to reach a Grand Slam semifinal at the most recent edition of Wimbledon in 2019, needed one hour and 41 minutes to overcome van Uytvanck, who is ranked 57th in the world and reached the Wimbledon round of 16 in 2018.
Svitolina came from a set down to win when they met at 2015 Indian Wells in their only previous encounter, and she was pushed to three sets again by the Belgian. Only a single break of serve separated the two this time around, with Svitolina edging van Uytvanck in winners by 34 to 33, and an identical unforced error court of 27 apiece.
"I think the return was quite good for me today," Svitolina said, in her post-match press conference. "I was striking the ball really good. On important moments, I think I was calm and my shots were quite good in the end. Just happy the way I was tracking the ball and that I could hold my nerves. This was very important for me today."
Van Uytvanck opened the match with a love break, but Svitolina stormed back from that initial stumble, breaking the Belgian twice to move ahead 4-2, before easing through the rest of the first set.
Van Uytvanck then had to stare down two break points at 1-1 in the second set, but her forehand clicked into gear as she fired multiple winners from that wing to hold on for 2-1. The Belgian then was bolstered by that same shot to break Svitolina for 3-1, and she closed out the set with another forehand winner on break point, leveling the match.
However, Svitolina surged in the third set, using a variety of passing winners to move ahead by a break at 3-2. Cracking returns gave Svitolina another break and a 5-2 lead, and though the World No.5 dropped serve after that, she used one more passing winner to reach match point at 5-3. Svitolina converted that chance with a final return winner, sliding into the second round.
Next up for Svitolina will be Poland's Magda Linette, who outlasted Amanda Anisimova of the United States, 2-6, 6-3, 6-1.
No.12 seed Victoria Azarenka of Belarus had a more straightforward first-round affair, as she defeated Kateryna Kozlova of Ukraine, 6-1, 6-3, in just over an hour.
Former World No.1 Azarenka, a Wimbledon semifinalist in 2011 and 2012, has now made it past the first round of Wimbledon for the 13th time in her 14 appearances. The only time Azarenka failed to win her opening match at the grass-court major was in her first showing back in 2006.
Two-time Grand Slam champion Azarenka was commanding against World No.157 Kozlova, firing 20 winners to just 12 unforced errors.
Azarenka had a minor stumble when she served for the match at 5-2 in the second set, dropping her service at love. However, the Belarusian gritted through five deuces in the very next game before converting her fifth match point after an ill-timed double fault by Kozlova.
Azarenka will next face one of 2021's most resurgent players, Sorana Cirstea of Romania. Cirstea, who won her first title in nearly 13 years in Istanbul earlier this season, defeated British wildcard Samantha Murray Sharan, 6-3, 6-3.
No.13 seed Elise Mertens of Belgium, meanwhile, was the first player to reach the third round of the women's singles, after a breezy 6-2, 6-0 win over Zhu Lin of China.
Mertens needed just 58 minutes to dispatch 99th-ranked Zhu, improving to 3-1 against the Chinese player. It was the second time the pair had met in the second round of a major this season, with Mertens also winning in straight sets at the 2021 Australian Open.
On the grass courts in London, Mertens was dominant, firing 22 winners to just five from the racquet of Zhu. After dropping serve for 2-2 in the opening set, Mertens went on a mission and won ten games in a row to wrap up the match.