KATIE BOULTER pushed No2 seed Aryna Sabalenka all the way – but ultimately could not repel the Belarusian’s bullets.
Sabalenka racked up serve speeds of up to 119mph in a thrilling deciding set which included a game which went on for over 11 minutes.
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It proved just too much for British No5 Boulter who was mightily impressive on her first-ever Centre Court appearance and quickly won the affections of the partisan crowd.
Sabalenka, who came through 4-6 6-3 6-3, said: “It was really tough.
“She’s an unbelievable player. I really wanted to win this match.
“It was a great atmosphere. I enjoyed it from the beginning until the end, no matter what the score was.”
World No219 Boulter showed no nerves against her highly-fancied opponent, who has been tipped as a possible SW19 champion this year.
Home hero Boulter stunned Sabalenka to take the first set 6-4.
But the Eastern European ace held her nerve and her serve to level up in the second.
The pair broke both each other at the start of the third set and at 2-2, Boulter thought she had won the fifth game to love.
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But Hawkeye discovered a Sabalenka shot had touched the line and the Belarusian came storming back to break again.
The marathon game of the match came at 4-3 when Boutler had SIX break points.
But Sabalenka stood firm with her booming serve and backhands.
The Minsk powerhouse punched the air with both hands and yelled ‘Come on!’ after clinching victory, showing just how deep she had to dig to see off her inspired opponent.