Watson gets British fans excited about what may be
The girl from Guernsey promises much for the future
Sunday 01 July 2012
It's a scenario British tennis fans are familiar with: a home player has a couple of good wins and they dare to dream she may end the drought of silverware since 1977, when Virginia Wade lifted the Venus Rosewater Dish on Centre Court.
Although 2012 is another jubilee year, a fairytale ending wasn't to be. A little after 5pm on Friday, Heather Watson, ranked 103 in the world and Britain's last remaining player in the women's singles – the first to reach the third round since Elena Baltacha in 2002 – was dumped out by the third seed and world No 3 Agnieszka Radwanska, 6-0 6-2. Nevertheless, it was enough to excite fans about the promising state of British women's tennis.
There are certainly signs that the excitement is justified. Of the six British female players in the main draw, Watson is one of four – with Laura Robson, Anne Keothavong and Baltacha – who are in and around the top 100, and Watson's run at Wimbledon will place her in the 80s when the rankings are next announced.
While Naomi Broady was defeated by a player 157 places above her in the rankings, three Brits (Watson, Baltacha and Keothavong) went out to players in the top 10 and another, Johanna Konta, made the 28th seed, Christina McHale of the US, work hard for her three-sets win in more than three hours of play. And Robson, who won the Wimbledon girls' title in 2008, was defeated after a three-set battle with the 2010 French Open champion, Francesca Schiavone of Italy.
It's Watson, though, who is attracting most attention. She grew up in a family of four in Guernsey, where her father, Ian, originally from Manchester and whom she describes as her idol, was managing director of Guernsey Electricity before he retired two years ago. He had met her mother, Michelle, when he was on a placement in Papua New Guinea, and they settled in the Channel Islands to raise their family.
Watson took up tennis when she was seven and was given a place at the age of 12 at Nick Bollettieri's academy in Florida, which has produced two Wimbledon champions in Maria Sharapova and Andre Agassi.
She won the US Open girls' title in 2009 and seemed set for a successful seniors career, but at last year's Wimbledon she went out in the first round after injuring her elbow, and then in the Australian Open this year suffered a crushing, 6-1 6-0 defeat in the first round against the eventual champion, Victoria Azarenka.
It was a tough test for her, says Judy Murray, mother of Andy and Watson's Fed Cup captain. "When you're up against one of the very best players in the world it exposes any weakness in your game. It was a tough match for Heather and it made her realise she needed a bigger serve and to take the ball on more from the back of the court if she was going to trouble better players."
Watson has since worked hard, particularly on her serve, and, says Murray, the effect is noticeable. "She has added more firepower to her game and is playing with more discipline and focus. Making that transition from successful junior to successful senior can take a little time, but Heather better understands now how to live the life of a professional tennis player in terms of diet, sleep and physical conditioning."
It's not just Murray who is impressed with Watson. Tracy Austin, two-time Wimbledon semi-finalist and now a respected BBC commentator and analyst, thinks Watson can go far.
"She's got good fighting spirit," the American said. "She needs to improve her second serve, add a little bit more to her game, add a little spin to her shots. But the thing to remember is that she's still only 20 – she's gaining experience rapidly.
"She seems to have the desire to take it all in and to work hard, so the top 20 is a capability. It's not a guarantee, but it's a capability."
If she did reach that level, Watson would have a large glee club. Fans love her gritty determination and smiley demeanour on court – "I wear my heart on my sleeve" – while tennis writers like her easygoing style.
In press conferences she gives, as journalists say, good quote – talking about her favourite tournament breakfast of smoked salmon and eggs "with toast on the side" – and offers honest and insightful analysis of her matches.
She's also generous about other players and acknowledges the benefit of having Robson – her doubles partner in the Fed Cup, at Wimbledon and in the Olympics next month – being on the tour at the same time, both to create some friendly rivalry and diffuse the media spotlight.
"We're good friends," Watson has said. "It helps there are two of us – it's not healthy if all the focus is on one player."
Murray, meanwhile, must be chuffed that Watson is part of her Fed Cup team, which has been rejuvenated under her leadership.
"Heather has a nice feel for the game," she said. "She has a long way to go but is in a very good place at the moment.
"I'm not going make any predictions about her but I think the future is very rosy for Heather Watson," she added.
Brit parade – how they did
World ranking: 228
Lost to Lourdes Dominguez Lino (Spain), 71 in the world, 6-4 7-6 (4) in the first round
Total playing time in championships: 1hr 25min
World ranking: 212
Lost to Christina McHale (USA), 28th seed, 32 in the world, 6-7 (4) 6-2 10-8 in the first round
Total playing time: 3hr 10min
World ranking: 97
Lost to Francesca Schiavone (Italy), 24th seed, 26 in the world, 2-6 6-4 6-4 in the first round
Total playing time: 2hr 5min
World ranking: 77
Lost to Sara Errani (Italy), 10th seed, 10 in the world, 6-1 6-1 in the second round
Total playing time: 2hr 25min
World ranking: 101
Lost to Petra Kvitova (Czech Republic), fourth seed, 4 in the world, 6-0 6-4 in second round
Total playing time: 3hr 48min
World Ranking: 103
Lost to Agnieszka Radwanska (Poland) third seed, 3 in the world, 6-0 6-2 in third round
Total playing time: 3hr 39min
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