Watson is a big noise amid Big Apple hubbub
British No 3 begins her favourite Grand Slam buoyed by the atmosphere and a spell in limelight
It has been quite a year for Heather Watson.
In her first full season on the women's tour, the 19-year-old from Guernsey has reached two quarter-finals, become the first British woman to win a match at the French Open for 17 years and joined the world's top 100.
Next week Watson will break more new ground when she plays in the main draw of a Grand Slam tournament by dint of her ranking, rather than through a wild card or the qualifying tournament. Her first-round draw here at the US Open ensures she will not go unnoticed: Watson's opponent is Maria Sharapova, the world's highest-earning sportswoman and the second favourite behind Serena Williams to win the year's final Grand Slam event.
Before that, Watson will learn the result of another competition in which she features. The British No 3 was one of six young players from around the world selected for the Sony Ericsson Xperia Hot Shots, in which their off-the-court lives are filmed and the results streamed online for fans, who are invited to vote for their favourites.
Germany's Sabine Lisicki, who reached the semi-finals at Wimbledon, is expected to win the poll, the result of which will be announced today, and a $100,000 (£61,500) contract with Sony Ericsson, but the programme has helped to raise Watson's profile and given her some memorable moments. "I've got to do some really cool things," she said. "I got to go to my first fashion show, in Miami, and we got given the opportunity to meet some very cool people."
The scheme has also helped Watson learn to cope with fame. "When I was shopping in England a mother and daughter came up to me and said: 'Are you Heather Watson?' They congratulated me on how I've done so far. And at the airport two days ago someone from England was there and asked to have a picture taken with me. It's just a great feeling."
In what other ways has Watson's life changed this year? "I'm definitely travelling a lot more. After I finished school it's just been tennis, tennis, tennis. I'm loving it. I've had so many opportunities this year to do fun things."
Although her career has been on an almost exclusively upward curve, Watson has also had to cope with disappointment. At Wimbledon she was leading France's Mathilde Johansson until she suffered an elbow injury that scuppered her chances.
"I don't get injured often and it was horrible," Watson said. "I didn't know how to deal with it. It was very upsetting. But I'm looking after my body now to make sure that won't happen again.
"I've been doing a lot of fitness work. After Wimbledon I rested for two weeks, which was nice to have some time with my friends, see my family and just chill a bit. I've been working on my fitness a lot. I'm feeling very fit at the moment."
After Wimbledon, Watson also began working with a new coach, 39-year-old Mauricio Hadad, a former top-100 player. The Colombian was her first coach at Nick Bollettieri's Florida academy before leaving to set up his own scheme in his homeland.
"He's been a player so he's been there and done it," Watson said. "He's very calm. I'm not good with people who scream and shout in my face. That makes me not want to listen. He's very smart and I agree with him about everything he says about the game."
Watson has been based in Florida for the last seven years and clearly feels at home on this side of the Atlantic. She won the US Open junior title here two years ago.
"I love the US Open and Wimbledon," she said. "They're definitely my favourites. I love the courts in New York, the atmosphere is great, the people are so nice. The crowd gets really into it."
Some players find the noise and the hubbub around Flushing Meadows a distraction, but Watson enjoys the experience. "It is kind of noisy, but I train here in America and it's so noisy here anyway. There's music and everybody screaming and shouting and having fun. I guess I'm used to it in a way. I just love that kind of atmosphere. Because I feel like I'm a loud, bubbly person it kind of goes with me."
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