Heather Watson determined to learn from world No 4's subtle lesson
Top Briton undone by Radwanska's clever tactics but vows to build on Australian adventure
It said everything about Heather Watson's renewed levels of expectation that the 20-year-old Briton was in a subdued mood after her 6-3, 6-1 defeat by Agnieszka Radwanska in the third round of the Australian Open here yesterday.
Watson won twice as many games as she had in losing to the 23-year-old Pole at the same stage at Wimbledon last summer, but battling defeats are not the currency that Watson wants to deal in these days.
Since Wimbledon Watson has won a title on the main tour – the first by a British woman for 24 years – and broken into the world's top 50. She is forecast to climb about 10 places to No 41 when the rankings are updated in nine days' time, though the impression she gave after this defeat was that she felt she had missed an opportunity to make further progress.
At Wimbledon Watson had played into Radwanska's hands by going on court with all guns blazing. Here she adopted a much more cautious approach – perhaps too cautious – but found herself outplayed as soon as the world No 4 found her rhythm midway through the opening set.
Radwanska, whose inventive play is such a refreshing change from the power game employed by most of today's top women, frustrated Watson with a delightful combination of lobs, drop shots and subtle spins. This was her 12th win in succession during a start to the year which has already seen her win the titles in Auckland and Sydney.
Having gone 2-1 up in the first set, Watson had chances to break serve in the next game, but Radwanska held on. The Pole won 10 games out of 11 before Watson finally stopped the rot when trailing 5-0 in the second set.
"Today I went into the match differently from last time," Watson said. "Last time I didn't really know what I was going to do, but this time I had a game plan. I have just realised that I need to work on staying focused and being there mentally throughout without blinking, because I can't let it pass me by."
A major consolation was the fact that she had been beaten by a player who, like herself, is not blessed with the same natural power as many of today's leading women.
"I think it's great that she's got to the top playing such a different game," Watson said. "It's quite refreshing, I think, because lots of the girls just want to hit one or two shots, big serve, smack a return. It makes it more interesting to play and to watch somebody who builds a point and works a point."
Watson said she had found it hard to read Radwanska's game. "The ball isn't coming that fast, but it's just coming back every single time." she said. "My game plan today was to come to the net a bit more. I like coming to the net. I think that worked well.
"There were a few times I came in at the wrong time, but one thing she's very good at is, when she's pulled wide she just has so much control of the ball. A few times when I hit an angle I thought she'd come back with an angle, but she went for the lower percentage shot down the line – but for her it's higher percentage."
Watson believes she plays with plenty of variety and sees similarities between her own game and Radwanska's – "I don't just try and smack everything and just play one way".
But this is an area on which she needs to work. While it is true that she is making more forays to the net, Watson's volleys, drop shots and slices are all shots with scope for improvement.
Considering that she had come here nursing an elbow injury, which had forced her to withdraw from last week's event in Hobart, Watson can feel more than satisfied with her Australian Open experience. This was only the second time in her short career that she had reached the third round of a Grand Slam event.
"It was a good week, but I always feel like I could have done better," she said. "It's important I learn and just keep pushing and use this as motivation for the next weeks to come."
Watson had gone on court less than 11 hours after her compatriot Laura Robson's remarkable victory over Petra Kvitova, the world No 8 and 2011 Wimbledon champion, on Thursday night. Robson was playing Sloane Stephens, of the United States, this morning for a place in the fourth round.
After the win over Kvitova, Robson was already projected to climb from her present position at No 53 in the world rankings to within two places of Watson.
Both British women are next due to play in Pattaya, Thailand next month, after which they will be on Fed Cup duty. After years in the doldrums, the British team, captained by Judy Murray, can expect a bright future with such talent on board.
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