Heather Watson has played many better matches but the 20-year-old Briton has rarely shown more spirit than she did in reaching the third round of the Australian Open here today. In a contest littered with mistakes by both players, Watson saved three match points against Ksenia Pervak before winning 4-6, 7-6, 6-2 to earn a meeting with Agnieszka Radwanska, the world No 4.
Pervak, the world No 82, is ranked 32 places beneath Watson, but has been in the top 40 and had beaten the Briton in their only previous meeting, in the junior competition here four years ago.
The 21-year-old from Kazakhstan is a consistent ball striker and for the best part of two sets Watson struggled to find a way past her. It was only in the latter stages that the world No 50 found the confidence to go for her shots.
The match was played on Court 8, which backs on to the railway line leading into Melbourne’s main station. The trains can be a distraction, but on this occasion the noise was usually drowned out by the loud support for Watson. The stands were so full that even Judy Murray, Britain’s Fed Cup captain, had to watch from a stairway in the early stages.
Both players struggled to cope with the wind and made frequent mistakes in the first set, in which there were five breaks of serve. Watson tried to be more aggressive in a marathon second set, which lasted 97 minutes, but when Pervak went 6-3 up in the tie-break, the Briton having just made a mess of two points with a woeful overhead and a missed forehand, it seemed as though the end was imminent.
However, Watson is a wonderful competitor. She saved the first match point with some solid hitting in a 28-shot rally, which was the longest of the match to date, the second with some brave defence and the third when Pervak hit a backhand long. The Briton went on to win the tie-break 9-7, converting her second set point with a big backhand into the corner.
Watson said afterwards: “At 6‑3 down I thought: ‘You know what? She's going to have to win it. I'm not going to give it away.’ So I just made sure I made every single ball, and then suddenly it was my set point and I was able to take that set.”
Despite suffering from cramp, Watson got off to a flier in the decider, winning the first four games. As her confidence rose, Pervak’s spirits quickly dipped. At 5-2 the Briton served out to love to secure victory. At the end she even found the energy to stay on court for several minutes, hugging supporters, posing for photographs and signing autographs.
“They were awesome throughout the whole match,” Watson said. “It's easy to support someone when they're winning, but when they're losing it's not as easy. They were just non-stop from beginning to end supporting me. It was just unbelievable being out there.”
On Friday Watson will hope to improve on her only previous meeting with Radwanska, who beat her for the loss of just two games at Wimbledon last summer. The 23-year-old Pole has been in excellent form this year, having won all 11 of her matches without dropping a set. Radwanska secured her place in the third round by beating Romania’s Irina-Camelia Begu 6-3, 6-3.
Laura Robson will attempt to join Watson in the third round tomorrow when she faces Petra Kvitova, the 2011 Wimbledon champion, in the final night match in Rod Laver Arena. Andy Murray meets Portugal’s Joao Sousa earlier in the day.
Maria Sharapova secured a third-round meeting with Venus Williams thanks to a second successive 6-0, 6-0 victory, beating Misaki Doi in just 47 minutes, but Sam Stosur disappointed once again in her home Grand Slam tournament, losing 6-4, 1-6, 7-5 to Zheng Jie.
David Ferrer, the No 4 seed, dropped a set to the American lucky loser, Tim Smyczek, before winning 6-0, 7-5, 4-6, 6-3, while Tomas Berdych eased to a 6-2, 6-2, 6-4 victory over Guillaume Rufin.