Watson excels to qualify for Roland Garros

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The Independent Online

Margaret Thatcher was in her first term as Prime Minister and Bjorn Borg had only just retired from tennis the last time a British woman came through the qualifying tournament to play in the French Open.

Heather Watson changed all that here yesterday when the 19-year-old from Guernsey beat Switzerland's Stefanie Voegele 6-4, 6-4 in the final round of qualifying.

While others have played in the tournament by virtue of their world ranking, no British woman had accomplished the tough task of winning three qualifying matches since Kate Brasher in 1983. Watson, who is up to a career-best No 119 in the world rankings, now plays a wild card, France's Stéphanie Foretz Gacon (No 140) in the first round. The winner is likely to meet Estonia's Kaia Kanepi (No 16).

Watson put her form this week – she has won all her matches in straight sets – down to a pledge to keep calm on court. Although she has never been a serial equipment abuser, the 2009 US Open junior champion did not like what she saw when she was shown pictures of herself throwing her racket in Rome last week.

"It just looked terrible and I don't want that to happen again," Watson said. "It's just very unprofessional – and that's not my goal.

"Before Rome I played at Cagnes-sur-Mer and I lost a match where I had two match points. I was devastated after that match – because I wanted to win it too badly. Since then I've turned over a new leaf. I said I'm never going to throw my racket ever again.

"I'm just going to have fun, enjoy tennis and just hit the ball, whether I win or lose. There are bigger things going on in the world to get mad at. A few points of tennis isn't one of them."

In her only other appearances at senior Grand Slam tournaments, Watson was given a wild card at Wimbledon last summer, where she was beaten in the first round; lost in the first round of qualifying at last year's US Open; and went out in the second round of qualifying at the Australian Open in January. However, she has made progress on the Women's Tennis Association tour and aims to break into the world's top 100 this year.

The Nick Bollettieri graduate has already won nine matches on clay this year. "When I first get on clay I'm all over the place and don't know how to hit the ball, but after a few tournaments I've really adapted my game," she said. "Clay wasn't one of my favourite surfaces but now it is."

At her current rate of progress Watson could soon overtake the two Britons ahead of her in the rankings, Elena Baltacha (world No 83) and Anne Keothavong (No 108), who both went straight into the main draw here.

In the first round Baltacha plays a qualifier, the American Sloane Stephens (No 138), with the winner likely to play Dominika Cibulkova (No 23). Keothavong's first opponent is the Russian Vesna Dolonts (No 101), with the defending champion, Francesca Schiavone, set to meet the winner.

Last year, Schiavone was the second oldest first-time Grand Slam champion in the Open era – she won the title just 18 days before her 30th birthday – and, at No 17 in the world, was the lowest ranked first-time winner for 34 years. However, the Italian has not reached a final in the last 12 months.

Caroline Wozniacki, the world No 1, has an outstanding opportunity here, particularly as the Williams sisters are both absent through injury and Kim Clijsters has not played for two months because of an ankle problem. Nevertheless, several others will also fancy their chances. Victoria Azarenka, Maria Sharapova and Petra Kvitova have all been in good form on clay, a surface which also suits Sam Stosur.

Three to watch in Paris

Caroline Wozniacki (Den, World No 1)

Yet to win a Grand Slam but has cemented her place at the top of the world rankings with three tournament victories this year. Lost in the semi-finals in Australia to Li Na

Maria Sharapova (Russia, No 7)

Has struggled on clay in the past but emerged as a contender here with victory in Rome last weekend, her first title for a year. At highest ranking since shoulder surgery three years ago

Sam Stosur (Australia, No 8)

Earned revenge for defeat by Francesca Schiavone in last year's final by beating her in Rome last week. Does not always handle pressure but has the game for clay and is an exceptional athlete

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