They are firm friends but British tennis will be hoping they also become big rivals. Laura Robson and Heather Watson, who both won junior Grand Slam titles, met on the court for the first time yesterday in what could become a long-running battle for supremacy between the British teenagers. Robson, the 2008 Wimbledon junior champion, beat Watson, the 2009 US Open junior champion, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 to reach the quarter-finals of the Aegon GB Pro-Series tournament in Barnstaple.
Watson, who as world No 87 is the higher ranked of the two Britons, made a slow start and appeared to be heading for a straight-sets defeat as Robson, the world No 135, took a 2-0 lead in the second set. However, the 19-year-old from Guernsey fought back to level the match before the 17-year-old Robson took command of the decider, breaking serve to lead 4-2.
"Heather and I are really good friends but I know how much winning that match meant to both of us," Robson said afterwards. "I started really well today and that really helped me, but I always knew Heather would come back and that she would get a lot of balls back. I was prepared to have to run around a lot. She started playing a lot better in the second set so in the third I just kept going for everything and believing in my shots."
Watson said: "There was a lot of hype around our match and both Laura and I were very motivated to win today. We've never played before so that was another challenge. I thought I started really badly. I was so slow and was 6-1, 2-0 down. Then I finally had a good service game and started moving a bit better. In the third I was a bit more tentative and didn't go for my shots. I just wasn't on form at all. Laura was better than me today and that's how it goes.
"I think it's great having a rivalry with Laura. We're both so competitive and just keep pushing each other along, which is working really well for us. I'm certainly looking forward to playing her again and hopefully getting my revenge."
Robson, who was a set down against Johanna Konta in the first round when her opponent retired hurt, now faces Russia's Ekaterina Bychkova, who beat another promising Briton, Naomi Broady. Anne Keothavong, the British No 3, faces Switzerland's Stefanie Voegele after beating the American Jill Craybas 6-2, 6-0.
The friendship of Robson and Watson is evident in the fact that they are playing doubles together this week. A left-hander and right-hander respectively, they have the potential to be a good team. Robson has a big serve and booming ground strokes but does not move around the court with the same ease as Watson, who lacks Robson's killer weapons. Both have made excellent progress this year, Watson climbing the rankings from No 176 and Robson is now the youngest player in the top 200.