Rejuvenated Heather Watson learning to out-think her 'superiors' ahead of Australian Open

The 22-year-old will be the only British woman competing in Melbourne

Click to follow

It has been a long and difficult road back for Heather Watson, but the 22-year-old from Guernsey is finally reaping the rewards of her hard work following her comeback from glandular fever.

Watson, the only British woman who was in the hat for Friday morning’s draw for next week’s Australian Open, will go into the year’s opening Grand Slam tournament on the back of one of her best sequences of results in the last four years.

The world No 49 was seeking her fifth successive victory over a higher-ranked opponent when she met the American Alison Riske, the world No 42, early Friday morning in the semi-finals of the Hobart International. Another American, Madison Brengle (No 84), was playing Japan’s Kurumi Nara (No 43) in the other semi-final. Later in the day Watson was set to partner Croatia’s Ajla Tomljanovic in the semi-finals of the doubles against Vitalia Diatchenko and Monica Niculescu.

Having beaten Casey Dellacqua (No 29) in her concluding singles match at the Hopman Cup last week, Watson reached the last four in Hobart with straight-sets wins over Magdalena Rybarikova (No 46), Sloane Stephens (No 34) and Roberta Vinci (No 44).

Yesterday’s 7-6, 6-2 victory over Vinci, the joint world No 1 in doubles, was a hard-fought affair, with the match turning in the tie-break, which Watson won 7-0. The British No 1 is developing a potent serve and her eight aces contributed to 79 per cent of points won on first serve. Three breaks of serve in the second set helped her to complete victory after an hour and 47 minutes.

The Australian Open will bring Watson’s career full circle following two difficult years. The Briton was ranked No 49 in the world, the same position she occupies today, when she first noticed the symptoms which were later identified as glandular fever at the 2013 Australian Open.

Thirteen months later, having struggled on her return, Watson had fallen to No 161 in the world rankings. However, she rebuilt her ranking last year on the second-tier International Tennis Federation circuit, winning two titles, and was back in the top 50 by the end of the campaign.

Under the Argentine Diego Veronelli, her coach since the end of 2013, Watson has become a more attacking player without losing her ability to defend.

“I love coming in to the net,” Watson told the Hobart tournament’s official website. “I saw glimpses of it last year in a couple of the ITF tournaments that I won. This is how I want to play consistently. I don’t want to be up and down. I want to try and maintain this level. I’ll have to do that not just on the court but mentally as well.”

The win over Vinci provided confirmation of Watson’s ability to out-think opponents over the course of a match. Having been 5-2 down, Watson won nine of the next 10 games before the Italian briefly rallied at the end. In her two previous matches Watson won seven of the last eight games in beating Rybarikova and eight of the last nine in overcoming Stephens.

“I’m a player that is always thinking on court,” Watson said. “I don’t play one certain way, I play my opponent. As soon as I figure my opponent out – I get the feel of their shots, where they like to serve, how they’re playing me – I adjust and then settle in.”

Naomi Broady and Johanna Konta had hoped to join Watson in the Australian Open but both Britons were beaten in qualifying. Broady lost 6-4, 6-3 to Poland’s Urszula Radwanska, while Konta went down 6-4, 7-5 to Anna Tatishvili, of the United States, after complaining bitterly about the umpire, Jose Sierra.

Konta was twice a break up in the second set but lost her serve in the following game each time, serving three double-faults on the second occasion. After Sierra had made a crucial overrule Konta told him: “We need to change you.” After another contested line call she told him: “You’re shocking.”

Watson and Konta will be Britain’s singles players in the Fed Cup next month in the continuing absence of Laura Robson. The former British No 1 has not played since last year’s Australian Open because of a wrist injury, which eventually required surgery. She is due to start her comeback in ITF tournaments next month.

Comments