Heather Watson through to second round at the French Open

 

Heather Watson reached the second round of the French Open for the second successive year with a hugely impressive 6-2 6-4 victory over Russian Elena Vesnina today.

The 20-year-old has had an up and down year in terms of form and injuries but Roland Garros is clearly a venue that suits her.

Last year Watson became the first British woman for 28 years to qualify in the French capital before going on to reach the second round - ending another long wait since Clare Wood's first-round win in 1994.

Watson did not drop a set in qualifying this time around and won her last match against Anna Floris on Friday for the loss of only one game.

The 20-year-old's game, based on consistent hitting and great movement around the court, is made for clay and she looked at home straight away, opening with a love game.

The concern about Watson, ranked 110th, has always been a lack of weapons but she has tweaked her service action recently and it was working brilliantly, with her tally of aces after four matches now standing at 18.

Her only previous meeting with Vesnina also came on clay two years ago, which the Russian won in two close sets, but Watson was well on top today and broke serve twice to take the opener, helped by a double fault from her opponent on set point.

Vesnina, who reached the final of the WTA Tour event in Budapest a month ago, renewed her efforts at the start of the second and got her reward with a break of serve in the third game.

But Watson hit back straight away, levelling at 2-2 with a lovely dinked backhand winner and then breaking again to move within two games of victory.

The Guernsey player was making a few more errors than she had in the opening set and she allowed Vesnina to level at 4-4 but she piled the pressure on when the world number 83 served to stay in the match and took her first match point for a notable win.

Watson will now play either 25th seed Julia Goerges or Lucie Hradecka as she bids to make the third round of a grand slam for the first time.

Watson is delighted with her form after a tough start to the season, which was partly caused by coming back too soon from a sprained ankle.

She said: "I'm very happy. I haven't had the best year so far. Then suddenly in Miami I started to play a lot better and got my two biggest wins (over Sorana Cirstea and Lucie Safarova).

"So I've just carried on working hard. I knew I had a lot of points here to defend, but I just didn't want to focus on that, just take each round at a time. That's what I've done. I've ended up playing really well.

"I absolutely love the courts here. I think they really suit my game. The atmosphere is always great, and I always seem to have quite a bit of support here."

Watson was particularly pleased with her serving, part of a new focus to be more attacking.

"I've been working on my game to become a lot more aggressive, and just add to my game, because I have the good defensive skills and I can move well," she said.

"So we've been working on my serve quite a bit, trying to get a lot more power and accuracy on it. It's working."

Goerges will be a tricky opponent for the young Briton, who lost to Kaia Kanepi at the same stage last year, but she will take plenty of confidence on to the court.

Watson said: "The past few years she's really climbed the rankings and done very well. But I've got nothing to lose. I'm going to go out there and play well and use that to my advantage, being the underdog, and just give it my best."

Victory on Thursday would also boost the 20-year-old's hopes of playing in the Olympics, with Elena Baltacha, Anne Keothavong, Watson and Laura Robson all vying for what is likely to be one singles wildcard.

"There's still time," added Watson. "If I do well here, hopefully I can get in. The Olympics has been a real motivation for me, but it's just been tough, kind of bad timing with everything.

"It would just be a dream for me to play. I'd absolutely love it, whether it's doubles, singles, just to be involved."

PA

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