Gutsy Heather Watson underlines her vast potential in defeat to Maria Sharapova

British No 2 loses tight match with Sharapova in Tokyo but still looks set for major ranking boost

Heather Watson's run at the Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo ended in a narrow defeat to Maria Sharapova yesterday but the 20-year-old Briton's performance underlined her growing reputation as a player who can trouble the very best.

Sharapova, the world No 2, needed more than three hours to find a way past Watson, eventually winning 6-7, 6-3, 6-4 to book her place in the third round. Although the 25-year-old Russian contributed to her own problems with 14 double-faults and 67 unforced errors, Watson also deserved credit for a gutsy performance, particularly in the first set tie-break, which she won 9-7.

It was the second time in the last 13 months that Watson has pushed Sharapova hard, having gone within six points of beating her in another three-set marathon at last year's US Open.

Watson, who had earned a place in the main draw via the qualifying tournament, could be more than satisfied with her form in Tokyo, having had a comparatively lean spell ever since she became the first British woman for 10 years to reach the third round at Wimbledon this summer. The 20-year-old from Guernsey had won only three matches in her six subsequent tournaments, though she was not helped by some tricky draws.

Having become British No 1 earlier this summer, Watson herself was overtaken last week by Laura Robson, who went on to reach the final in Guangzhou last Saturday. Robson is now No 57 in the world rankings while Watson is No 78. However, Watson should climb several places next week following her efforts in qualifying in Tokyo and her first-round victory over Sabine Lisicki.

Twelve months ago Watson finished her season playing mostly in International Tennis Federation tournaments at venues such as Shrewsbury and Barnstaple. The fact that she is tackling the Asia swing this year on the main Women's Tennis Association circuit is an indication of her progress and her ambition. This week's tournament in Tokyo and next week's in Beijing are two of the biggest outside of the Grand Slam events in terms of ranking points and the quality of the fields.

Watson began the year as the world No 92, but struggled in the early months because of an ankle injury. She had dropped to No 129 by March before beginning her climb back up the rankings in Miami. The bonus for her now is that she has few ranking points to defend over the next six months.

Both Watson and Robson will be playing next later this week at the qualifying tournament for the China Open in Beijing. The two Britons will then head for Osaka, the last leg of the Asian circuit.

Watson, at 20, is two years older than Robson. She has been based at Nick Bollettieri's academy in Florida since she was 12, while Robson has trained mostly in Britain. Watson is currently coached by the Colombian Mauricio Hadad, while Robson works with the Croat Zeljko Krajan.


Get Adobe Flash player


If Robson's ball-striking ability marks her as an outstanding talent, Watson has always had an edge in terms of athleticism. Watson does not have the same power as Robson, but is working hard at being more aggressive, which was evident in her performance against Sharapova.

"I've been known as kind of a counterpuncher, good at moving and reading the game well, and I wanted to get to the next step, improve my game," she said. "If you want to get to the next level, you have to change things. I've been working with my coach and with Nick [Bollettieri] at being more aggressive, coming to the net."

Women on top: Watson and Robson's rise

Heather Watson

Significant ranking changes (2011)

Auckland (3 Jan) q-finals 176-149

Aus. Open (17 Jan) 2nd r rd 149-142

Memphis (13 Feb) q-f 145-130

Nassau (14 March) q-f 132-123

French Open (22 May) 2 rd 117-93

Eastbourne (13 June) 1 rd 93-106

Wimbledon (20 June) 1 rd 106-104

US Open (29 Aug) 1 rd 102-107

Quebec City (12 Sep) q-f 107-99

Shrewsbury (19 Sep) Final 99-87

Laura Robson

Significant ranking changes (2011)

Wenshan (28 Mar) q-finals 238-256

Charlottesville (25 Apr) 2 rd 256-269

Ind Har Beach (2 May) s-f 269-234

Nottingham (6 Jun) q-f 234-257

's-Hert'bosch (12 Jun) 1 rd 257-254

Wimbledon (24 Jun) 2 rd 254-184

Cincinnati (15 Aug) 1 rd 176-173

US Open (29 Aug) 2 rd 173-146

Tokyo (25 Sept) 2 rd 146-141

Beijing (1 Oct) 1 rd 141-132

Life and Style
Fans line up at the AVNs, straining to capture a photo of their favourite star
life Tim Walker asks how much longer it can flesh out an existence
Life and Style
Every minute of every day, Twitter is awash with anger as we seek to let these organisations know precisely what we think of them
techWhen it comes to vitriol, no one on attracts our ire more than big businesses offering bad service
Professor David Nutt wants to change the way gravely ill patients are treated in Britain
people Why does a former Government tsar believe that mind-altering drugs have a place on prescription?
Norway’s ‘The Nordland Line – Minute by Minute, Season by Season’ continues the trend of slow TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jonny Evans has pleaded not guilty to an FA charge for spitting at Papiss Cisse
Life and Style
Kate Moss will make a cameo appearance in David Walliams' The Boy in the Dress
The image released by the Salvation Army, using 'The Dress'
Liverpool defender Kolo Toure
football Defender could make history in the FA Cup, but African Cup of Nations win means he's already content
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable