French Open 2014: Heather Watson hoping to use her positive memories of Elena Baltacha to motivate her after qualifying for Roland Garros
Watson defeated Anett Kontaveit to continue her good form of late and book her place at the French Open
Saturday 24 May 2014
Heather Watson has special motivation to continue her winning run at the French Open.
The British number two made it eight victories in a row by thrashing 18-year-old Estonian Anett Kontaveit 6-1 6-1 in the final round of qualifying at Roland Garros.
While things have been going very well on the court for Watson, it has been a poignant week off it for all associated with British tennis after the funeral of Elena Baltacha on Monday.
Watson was a Fed Cup team-mate of the former British number one, who died from liver cancer earlier this month.
The 22-year-old said: "It's so sad. You don't really believe it that you'll never see her again.
"Her funeral was on my birthday and lots of the girls sent me messages. Laura (Robson) was there, Judy (Murray) was there.
"I'm just using it as motivation that life is short, you don't know when it's going to be your last so just make the most of every day.
"She was so feisty on the court. I can picture her now saying, 'Come on'. I just can't believe she's not here any more."
Watson has a winnable first-round match against Czech world number 63 Barbora Zahlavova Strycova, although fourth seed Simona Halep is likely to lie in wait for the winner.
James Ward, the first British man to qualify at Roland Garros for 41 years, faces a trickier task against 17th seed and last year's quarter-finalist Tommy Robredo.
Watson's form and mood is in complete contrast to 12 months ago, when she returned from two months out with glandular fever at the French Open.
She has since admitted she came back too soon and a lack of fitness contributed to a loss of confidence that resulted in her winning only five matches in five months.
Watson turned the corner at the end of last season but by then she had already dropped outside the top 100.
Happily this season has produced plenty of wins for Watson, two titles and, but for a rib injury that sidelined her for six weeks, she almost certainly would not have needed to qualify for the French Open.
Her second title of the season in Prague last weekend lifted her back into the top 100 at 92 and she has already secured her place in the main draw for Wimbledon.
The Guernsey player said: "Twelve months ago I really wasn't enjoying my tennis. I wasn't winning much at all and now I'm playing the best tennis of my career and I'm loving it.
"I'm not getting tired. I've played so many matches in a row and I'm taking nothing for granted. Every match is an opportunity. I'm just really enjoying it; I'm enjoying matches, practice, stretching after and the physio - all of it."
Key to her success has been Watson's new-found commitment to attacking tennis, helped by Argentinian coach Diego Veronelli, with whom she linked up at the end of last year.
"Before, even when I reached my highest ranking, I was a kind of a counter-puncher," said Watson.
"On important points I'd wait for my opponent to miss or hope for them to miss, now as soon as I see a short ball I want to win the point.
"Looking at my stats usually I would make less unforced errors and less winners and now it's the other way round.
"I'll be making more unforced errors but I'm also hitting more winners and it's a lot more fun playing this way. It's exhausting running all over the place. It's nice being in control and being the captain of your ship."
With very few ranking points to defend for the rest of the season, Watson's career-high mark of 39 is back within sight.
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