Katie Boulter rated her week in Birmingham as a “huge step forward” after losing to former Wimbledon champion Simona Halep in the quarter-finals.
The British player claimed the best win of her career by ranking against Alison Riske in the first round and then knocked out former top-10 star Caroline Garcia, but second seed Halep showed her class in a 6-4 6-1 victory.
Boulter said: “I’m always probably my biggest critic so for the moment it will be difficult for me to say I’m feeling pretty good about today but, as my coach reminded me, I would have signed for this two weeks ago, three weeks ago, four weeks ago, so I cannot complain at all.
“I know I’m going to be very positive about this week. It’s a huge step forward for me. I’ve played some of my best tennis. I think I can be playing these weeks week in, week out, and that’s where I want to be.”
Boulter, who only returned from nearly three months out with a leg injury in Nottingham last week, matched her opponent impressively for the first eight games.
She then saved three break points at 4-4 only to double fault on the fourth, and Halep seized the opportunity to pull away from her opponent.
The Romanian is playing her first grass-court tournament since her stunning Wimbledon victory over Serena Williams in the 2019 final after injury ruled her out last year.
Boulter, 25, has also been given wild cards for Eastbourne next week and Wimbledon the week after, while her performances here will see her ranking rise to 127.
Her sights are set much higher, if her body will cooperate, and Boulter said of Halep: “She’s clearly one of the best tennis players out there.
“So, for me to be able to stand out there and feel like I can compete and win the match – I really did feel if I brought a bit more game today, then it would have been closer and it would have been a tough match for both of us.
“Especially the grass where I can use opportunities with wild cards, that’s really important to me because it helps me skip a couple of levels and get back to where I want to be. But I’ve been edging closer each time I’ve been back from injury and hopefully now I can be here to stay.”
In the last four, Halep will take on Nottingham champion Beatriz Haddad Maia, who continued her winning run with a 6-3 6-2 victory over third seed Camila Giorgi.
Also through to the semi-finals are sixth seed Sorana Cirstea and eighth seed Zhang Shuai, who will face each other.
Cirstea made it a very good day for Romania by coming from a set down to defeat Donna Vekic 5-7 6-3 6-4 before China’s Zhang saw off Dayana Yastremska 7-5 6-4.
Gauff will next face top seed Ons Jabeur, who recovered from a set down to beat Aliaksandra Sasnovich 6-7 (3) 6-3 6-2.
Maria Sakkari eased to a 6-0 6-3 win over Daria Kasatkina to set up a semi-final clash with eighth seed Belinda Bencic, who was a 3-6 6-3 6-3 winner over Veronika Kudermetova.