Watson courts attention with yet another win on Paris clay
Briton beats experienced Russian Vesnina to reach second round for the second year in succession
At this rate Heather Watson will be giving visitors guided tours of Roland Garros. The 20-year-old from Guernsey is getting to know her way round the venue for the French Open as well as anybody and yesterday took her record in two visits here to seven wins in nine matches in the qualifying competition and main draw. A 6-2, 6-4 victory over Russia's Elena Vesnina was Watson's best in a Grand Slam tournament and took her for the second year in succession into the second round, in which she will face Germany's Julia Goerges.
Twelve months ago Watson became the first British woman for 28 years to negotiate the qualifying competition here and the first to win in the main draw for 17 years. This year she has not dropped a set in three matches in qualifying and one in the main draw.
Having made her big breakthrough on the senior tour last year, Watson had a difficult start to 2012. She struggled with an ankle injury, which she suffered playing football, and lost confidence, but her season sprang to life after two good wins in Miami. She won four matches on clay at Estoril, a feat she has equalled here.
"I absolutely love the courts here," she said. "They really suit my game. The atmosphere is always great and I always seem to have quite a bit of support."
Watson thinks that training at Nick Bollettieri's academy in Florida, where she has been based since the age of 12, has helped her on clay.
"I play with the boys a lot and they hit a lot of heavy spins, so I'm prepared for the balls that are coming above my shoulders," she said. "I just enjoy playing the long points, working hard for it and building the point instead of just trying to bash winners everywhere.
"In tennis and especially for me, it's all in the head. If I'm playing well, it's in my head. It's confidence going after your shots. I always believe that I can do it. I wouldn't be in this game if I didn't think I could."
There have been times when she has been too cautious. "I've been working on my game to become a lot more aggressive," she said. "I have good defensive skills and I can move well, but I want to also use it to be aggressive. So we've been working on my serve quite a bit, trying to get a lot more power and accuracy on it – and it's working."
The world No 110 played some of her best tennis to beat Vesnina, the world No 83 who has played in five Grand Slam doubles finals. Gliding around the court, Watson struck the ball beautifully and attacked at every possibility. In the first set she dropped only one point on her own serve.
The only time Watson was in any trouble was early in the second set, but after Vesnina had broken to lead 2-1 she hit back, chasing down a drop shot to hit a clever cross-court backhand winner on break point. From 0-30 down in the next game, four unreturned serves put her 3-2 up and she secured victory after an hour and 21 minutes.
After being outgunned by a big hitter, Kaia Kanepi, last year, Watson believes she will be better prepared to face Goerges, the world No 27. The 23-year-old German reached the third round here last year.
On a day when Anne Keothavong, the only other Briton left in the women's singles, slumped to a 6-1, 6-2 defeat by Hungary's Melinda Czink, Watson was still hoping to win a place in the Olympic tournament at Wimbledon.
With no Britons likely to earn a place by dint of their rankings, the highest ranked of the home players will probably be awarded a wild card in the singles. Elena Baltacha is currently the British No 1, but Keothavong is expected to overtake her on the cut-off date, the day after the end of the French Open.
Watson would probably have to reach the quarter-finals here to stand any chance of becoming British No 1 and making it into the Olympics in singles, though she could win a place in the doubles alongside Laura Robson, with a wild card. "The Olympics have been a real motivation for me," Watson said. "It would just be a dream for me to play. I'd absolutely love it, whether it's doubles or singles, just to be involved."
Keothavong has lived all her life in Hackney, 10 minutes from the Olympic site, and is desperate to make it to the Games. She even applied – unsuccessfully – for £2,000 worth of tickets for a variety of sports. Injuries have disrupted her season, though, and she seemed nervous against Czink, who is 35 places beneath her at No 116 in the world.
Maria Sharapova and Petra Kvitova, two of the favourites to win the women's title, started in convincing fashion. Sharapova beat Romania's Alexandra Cadantu 6-0, 6-0 in just 48 minutes, while Kvitova defeated the 16-year-old Ashleigh Barty, the junior Wimbledon champion and the youngest player in the draw, 6-1, 6-2. The oldest player in the singles, 41-year-old Kimiko Date-Krumm of Japan, was beaten 6-3, 6-1 by the 2010 champion, Italy's Francesca Schiavone.
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