By Pritha Sarkar

LONDON (Reuters) – Elena Rybakina was very much aware that she would be treated as public enemy number one when she took on Katie Boulter — the sole Briton left in the Wimbledon singles draw — in what had been billed as a Centre Court blockbuster on Saturday.

Armed with a menacing serve and steely resolve, Wimbledon champion Rybakina never allowed the partisan crowd to find their full vocal range as she ruthlessly and unceremoniously cut Boulter down with a 6-1 6-1 third-round demolition job.

“I knew what to expect. Of course I knew it was going to be a tough one. But I heard some support (for me) and it was a really nice atmosphere,” said Rybakina, who has now become the red-hot favourite to win a second successive title.

“Today I was playing really well… and overall I am happy I was focused from the beginning until the end.”

The two protagonists had been kept waiting till almost nine pm local time (2000 GMT) before they could enter the floodlit arena and when Boulter dropped only one point in her opening service game, expectations of an upset win were riding high.

After all, this was the same stage where a hollering 15,000 capacity crowd had carried Andy Murray to many a famous late-night victory and the fans on Saturday were ready and waiting to once again play their part.

Add in the fact that Rybakina was still not fully fit after struggling to shake off the effects of a viral illness that had forced her to pull out of numerous tournaments over the past few weeks, and it seemed like Boulter already had one foot in the fourth round.

They only problem was that Rybakina had failed to read the British script.

From 1-1 in the first set, she pelted down aces and service winners and produced an endless barrage of forehand and backhand winners to bag the next seven games.

Such was the Kazakh third seed’s dominance that the stunned crowd appeared to have lost their collective voice while Boulter simply lost her way.

The woman who had famously knocked out former world number one Karolina Pliskova on the same stage 12 months ago had no answer to Rybakina’s firepower.

Rybakina sealed the first set with her sixth ace and although the British number one avoided the humiliation of being wiped out from the second set when she won the third game, there was a sense of inevitability hanging in the air because whatever Rybakina touched turned to gold.

Mercifully for the 89th-ranked Boulter, her ordeal lasted only 57 brutal minutes as Rybakina broke for the fourth time to end the British challenge at this year’s championships with a forehand winner.

Rybakina will now play Brazilian 13th seed Beatriz Haddad Maia.

(Reporting by Pritha Sarkar, editing by Clare Fallon)

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