Note: This article was first published on Jul. 2, 2023. Jodie Burrage has reached the second round of Wimbledon and will make her Centre Court debut today against No.11 seed Daria Kasatkina.

When Jodie Burrage is asked whether she expected her stellar results in the grass season so far, including her first Hologic WTA Tour final in Nottingham, she doesn't hesitate.

"No -- there's a straight answer," she replies.

Burrage had entered her home swing coming off yet another injury, with the pressure of a chunk of ranking points to defend and in a negative state of mind. More unexpected stress came when her boyfriend, the rugby scrum half Ben White, lost his job when the London Irish club went into administration. Yet in the past three weeks, she's scored some of the best wins of her career, including victories over Magda Linette, Alizé Cornet and Lauren Davis.

Ahead of Wimbledon, where No.108-ranked Burrage is a wild card and will face Caty McNally in the first round, the 24-year-old Londoner sat down with to talk about how she came out the other side of this year's troubles and a lifelong struggle with confidence.

Nottingham: Burrage stuns Cornet to make first WTA final

Burrage got injured at a particularly unfortunate time

The 2022 grass swing was a significant springboard for Burrage. She won 10 out of 15 matches during it, including noteworthy upsets of Petra Martic and Paula Badosa, and cut her ranking from No.260 to No.141 in just four weeks. Nearly a year later, she had carried that momentum up to No.106, with the Top 100 and her goal of making the Roland Garros main draw so close she could almost touch them.

Then came a stress fracture in Burrage's arm. She was unable to play Roland Garros at all, and instead of coming into her home tournaments on a high, she faced the prospect of sliding down the rankings if she didn't defend the previous year's points.

"I had no points coming off until grass and you just think, look where I could get to," Burrage said. "Then injuries stop you in your tracks a bit. How did I stay positive? I didn't, to be honest. I wasn't the happiest person to be around. Training was tough because you can't do much. It's not where you want to be. It's hard in the moment, but you've got to try to think it'll be worth it when you're back on court."

Burrage's partner was hit with bad news this month

The day before Burrage's first grass-court match of 2023, and her first match back from the arm injury, her boyfriend White received the news that his rugby club was shutting down for business decisions.

"They went bust and it was awful," Burrage said. "The last few weeks have been pretty stressful. It's madness how someone can just pick up the phone and say, 'You don't have a job and you're not getting paid this month.'"

White didn't need to search long for a new club -- on the day we talk, he announced that he had signed to Toulon, in the south of France. Even this silver lining had a cloud, though. With both their sporting bases in London, Burrage and White had lived together for two years together with 3-year-old labrador Otto. That domestic bliss is no more.

"It's going to be different for us and a shame," Burrage said. "But that's his career, and this is my career. We've always said that our careers come first, and that's been an understanding. And don't get me wrong, the south of France won't be a bad place to visit."

Over the years, Burrage's relationship has also given her a front-row seat to the glaring differences between the structures of the two sports. She has freedom; White has camaraderie.

"I'd love to be a part of all the team stuff they do at Billie Jean King Cup," Burrage said, "because I'm just so much better in a team when you can bounce off people, and I'm so jealous of the fact that he gets that. Tennis can be quite a solo sport when you're out there on your own. He's got people that can pick him up, it's not all on him. That's a good thing and a bad thing though. If his teammates don't play great, he doesn't either."

Improved fitness was the key to Burrage's rise

Looking at Burrage's record over the past three years, one statistic leaps out.

Between November 2020 and June 2022, she lost 20 out of 23 deciding sets to opponents at every level. Since then -- specifically, since a 3-6, 7-5, 6-3 upset of Martic at Eastbourne 2022 that she describes as "madness." Burrage has won 14 out of 25.

And the number is getting even better. Since March, her record in three-setters is 8-3, including a three-hour match against Tereza Martincova in the first round of Nottingham.

"I just wasn't fit enough," Burrage said of her previous poor record. Three consecutive three-set losses in the 2021 grass swing made her determined to turn this around.

"That has been my goal for the last two years, to increase my fitness. It is really showing now. I have a level I can play at, and I think it's a really good level. But if you're not fit enough and you can't keep the intensity, you can't play at that level. 

Burrage focused on training but recognized it was going to be a long-term process before she started to feel better. 

"It doesn't surprise me that it's taken two years," she said. "I've had three ankle operations, my last when I was 21. I feel like ankles, legs, lower limbs are the worst place to get injured, in my experience, because you can't bike, you can't run. So it's not easy to keep your actual fitness up."

Burrage's origin story was a win over Marion Bartoli

Not many 15-year-old schoolgirls can claim a victory over a reigning Wimbledon champion. But Burrage did just that in 2014, defeating Marion Bartoli in Liverpool. Burrage points out some mitigating factors: Bartoli had been retired for 10 months at that point; the tournament was an exhibition and the Frenchwoman retired trailing 7-5, 3-2. But for an unheralded teenager, it was a key moment.

"I will never forget that day," Burrage said. "I was sat with Tara Moore and my mum, and when I went on court I was saying to them, 'I just don't want to lose 6-0, 6-0.' There was a bell where they were sat, and they said, 'When you win your first game we're going to ring this bell.' To go out and beat her, even though she'd retired, that really kickstarted things for me."

Still, the decision to go pro was a few years off.

"I struggled a lot with confidence when I was younger," Burrage said. "Still now, to be honest, but dealing with it better. I didn't think I was good enough to go pro, so I decided to go to university when I was 17."

Burrage's plans to study forensic psychology were put on hold when, one week after making that decision, she found herself playing with more freedom than ever -- enough to win her first ITF title in Dublin.

"It just showed me that if I took the pressure off myself and just go and play and enjoy it, how well I could play," she said.