A disappointing spell in the Middle East for Heather Watson saw the British No 1 lose here on Sunday in the second round of qualifying for the Qatar Total Open. Making too many errors and struggling to handle the cold and windy conditions, Watson was beaten 6-3, 6-3 by Zheng Saisai, the world No 76.
Watson suffered with a fever last week in Dubai, where she lost first time out to Kateryna Kozlova, the world No 132. She subsequently managed only one brief practice session before playing her first match in qualifying here on Saturday, when she beat Qatar’s Olla Mourad for the loss of only one game.
Zheng, however, proved a different proposition. The 21-year-old Chinese kept making Watson hit the extra ball, while the Briton failed to capitalise on numerous opportunities. Watson went 2-0 up in the second set, but dropping her serve in a lengthy fourth game proved crucial.
“I’ve still got a cough and some sniffles,” Watson said afterwards. “Energy-wise I was absolutely fine today, but because I’d been ill I hadn’t been practising. I felt pretty inconsistent. I made a lot of chances for myself but just made way too many errors. I was up in so many games. She dealt well with the wind and played well on the important points. It was a little frustrating, but I still feel good about my game. Even though I was missing I was still doing the right things.”
Watson will return briefly to Britain before going to her training base at Nick Bollettieri’s academy in Florida. She plans to rest for a few days to ensure she is fully recovered before stepping up her training again in preparation for her next tournaments in Indian Wells and Miami. It has been a busy start to the year for the 22-year-old, who won the title in Hobart but lost in the first round of the Australian Open.
“I’m really looking forward to having a little block of training and working on my game,” Watson said. “I haven’t had that since the off-season. It will be a chance to tighten up and get myself fit, so that I feel confident. Even though I’ve only played three or four WTA tournaments, it feels like I’ve been playing non-stop because I’ve also had Hopman Cup and Fed Cup.”
Petra Kvitova, the Wimbledon champion, is the top seed here. The world No 3 won the title in Sydney last month but has faltered slightly in recent weeks, losing to Madison Keys in the third round of the Australian Open and to Carla Suarez Navarro in Dubai last week. “Dubai was tough and I didn’t play my best tennis there,” Kvitova said. “But I’m happy that I’ve already won one title this year.”
Simona Halep, who won this tournament last year, pulled out because of injury. On Saturday the Romanian beat Karolina Pliskova 6-4, 7-6 in the final in Dubai to claim her second title of the year. Pliskova, meanwhile, is set to climb to a career-high position at No 12 in the world rankings on Monday.
Agnieszka Radwanska, Caroline Wozniacki, Victoria Azarenka and Venus Williams are among the other contenders in a strong field here. “The draw is pretty strong from the beginning,” Radwanska said. “Wherever you play you want to win but this is not going to be easy.”
Andy Murray is competing this week in Dubai, where his first-round opponent will be Luxembourg’s Gilles Muller, who is coached by the Briton Jamie Delgado. Thereafter Murray is seeded to meet Portugal’s Joao Sousa in the second round, David Goffin in the quarter-finals and Roger Federer in the semi-finals. Novak Djokovic and Tomas Berdych are the top seeds in the other half of the draw. The British No 2, James Ward, having won two matches in qualifying, faces Feliciano Lopez.
Britain’s Colin Fleming and Jonny Marray reached their first final since renewing their doubles partnership but were beaten 6-4, 3-6, 10-8 in Marseille yesterday by Marin Draganja and Henri Kontinen.
Fabio Fognini was meeting David Ferrer last night in the final of the clay-court tournament in Rio de Janeiro. In the semi-finals on Saturday Fognini ended Rafael Nadal’s 52-match winning streak in semi-finals on clay.