The Centre Court crowd cheered every winner and did their best to lift her, but the best week of Heather Watson's senior career ended in a salutary 6-0, 6-2 defeat by Agnieszka Radwanska here yesterday. The 20-year-old Briton has taken a significant leap forward with her performances over the last week, but this was a sharp reminder of the improvements she needs to make if she is to break into the game's upper ranks.
Radwanska is not world No 3 for nothing. The last nine months have been the most successful period in the 23-year-old Pole's career and she was simply too good for Watson. Although no powerhouse in comparison with some of the amazons who now thrive in the women's game, Radwanska is a relentlessly consistent ball striker and one of the most inventive of modern-day players. Her style is not dissimilar to that of Martina Hingis.
Watson, who earlier this week became the first British woman to win a Centre Court match for 27 years, was aiming to become the first to reach the fourth round since 1998, but a combination of early nerves, a lack of firepower and Radwanska's all-round excellence meant that it was never a contest.
Although the 5ft 7in Watson is a fine athlete, her lack of any major weapons was exposed. Radwanska treated her serve with contempt until she finally found some rhythm in the middle of the second set. In the first set Watson won just one point – an ace – on her serve and in the whole match won only two of the 14 points played on her second serve.
Watson was unsure whether to attack Radwanska's serves or concentrate on getting the ball back in court. The Pole served cleverly, hitting the lines and disguising her placement. The major consolation Watson could take was the fact that she kept her composure and was playing much better by the end.
"She didn't miss," Watson said. "Her accuracy was very good. I was finding it tough to return today. I couldn't really tell where she was serving and she was hitting the lines on almost every serve, putting it exactly where she wanted. I think I tried to do too much and then I tried to do too little. I just wasn't getting it right today.
"She's so accurate and she did not give me anything. That's what the top players do.
"I've learnt a lot from this match. I'm going to grow, get stronger and improve on things."
Radwanska, a former Wimbledon junior champion, has never gone beyond the quarter-finals of a Grand Slam tournament, but with Sam Stosur and Li Na already out of her quarter of the draw, it would be a surprise if she does not reach the semi-finals, where she could meet Maria Sharapova.
With rain in the air, the roof was closed, ensuring a good atmosphere, even if the stadium was barely half-full. Watson started well enough, forcing two deuces in the opening game, but thereafter things went rapidly downhill. Radwanska, who led 4-0 after only 13 minutes and had the first set sewn up 11 minutes later, put Watson's serve under constant pressure. When the Pole went 3-0 up in the second set a "double bagel" seemed on the cards, but Watson finally put her serve together, holding with two successive love games.
At 2-5 she saved one match point by chasing down a drop shot but was powerless on the second as Radwanska hit a backhand winner to seal victory after 58 minutes. "I think she was a bit nervous at the beginning but she was serving better in the second set," Radwanska said. "She's a good young player. She just needs some more experience."
Watson, who on the strength of her performances here should climb about 20 places from her position at No 103 in the world rankings, said this week had been "a great learning experience".
She added: "The main thing is to gain experience and play these top players them more often. That's what I'm doing now, which is definitely helping."
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