Wimbledon 2013: Heather Watson wants to
go from Florida fun to Centre Court via her biggest battle

British No 2 tells Paul Newman about life in the States and how she’s relishing the chance of more heroics at Wimbledon since making a remarkable recovery from glandular fever


When Heather Watson was resting in Guernsey three months ago following her diagnosis with glandular fever, one thought dominated her mind. “I wasn’t feeling well and I was stressing a bit,” she recalled. “I was saying to my Dad: ‘I need to play Wimbledon, I need to play the grass-court season, I can’t miss it.’ He said: ‘Listen, you have got to get well first. You can’t be thinking about that.’ But I’m here and I’m playing. I’m so grateful and thankful.”

Glandular fever has ended the  careers of some players – Mario Ancic was never the same again and Robin Soderling has not picked up a racket in anger for three years – but Watson has made a remarkable  recovery. After only two months off the court she returned to competition at the French Open and recorded her best win since her comeback when she beat Varvara Lepchenko, the world No 27, in Eastbourne this week. She is still taking care not to push herself too hard, but the spring is back in her step and the warmest smile in tennis is back on her face.

If there was an upside to Watson’s illness it was the chance to spend her longest period at home since she signed up to Nick Bollettieri’s academy in Florida when she was just 12. Not that the world No 57 has regretted for one moment her decision to base herself in the United States.

A bubbly and outgoing personality, Watson has found the camaraderie and work ethic of Bradenton the perfect environment in which to develop her game. “I like the way of life too,” she said. “It’s so laid-back. There’s not lots of traffic and the weather’s great, though it can get super-hot in the summer, when you have to change your clothes about four times in a one-hour practice session.”

When Watson appointed a new coach two years ago it was no surprise that she turned to Mauricio Hadad, who worked at the academy from her earliest days there.

“He’s very calm,” Watson said. “I don’t think I deal well with people who are in my face shouting at me. Some people thrive on that, but not me. Mauricio is very strong and he’ll tell me if I need to be told, but it’s not  constant like some coaches are. I think we’re on the same wavelength.”

Bollettieri also keeps a close eye on Watson. “Nick is very different  because he’ll tell you straight,” Watson said. “That’s good – though I’m not sure I could cope with that all the time! Every time before a session with him he gives me a little talk. It’s like he’s rehearsed it a thousand times, but he hasn’t. He’s so natural at it. Whatever he says is inspiring.”

Although Watson would like to buy her own place in London she  expects to have Bradenton as her US base for the rest of her career. “The facilities are excellent and it’s a brilliant pace to train,” she said. “I love the atmosphere. I like the fact that you’re training around so many different people.

“I was training in the gym recently next to some American football players, who were getting ready for whatever they’re doing. It pushes me and motivates me. And there’s never a shortage of players to hit with. I don’t just hit with girls. I also hit with guys of all standards.”

Watson might never have chosen Florida but for a chance meeting with another British girl, Nicola Reynolds, when they were both visiting the academy when they were 11. “I remember bumping into her when I came out of the admissions office,” Watson recalled. “She said: ‘Are you going to come here?’ I said: ‘I don’t know. Are you?’ So we both said: ‘If you go, I’ll go.’

“That’s what made my mind up and we’ve been best friends ever since, though she doesn’t play  tennis any more. She’s taken a cooking course and is really into cooking now. She lives in Portugal at Estoril, so I always stay with her when I play the tournament there.”

Watson, who went to school in Bradenton, lives with her mother in a house next to the academy. “I’m on the road a lot of the time so it’s nice to come home to family,” she said. “Mum likes spending her time in Florida because she prefers to be in the sun. She’s been playing a lot of tennis, too.

“I actually do most of the cooking. Honey-glazed chicken is one of my specialities. I enjoy cooking, though there are some days when I just can’t be bothered because I’m too tired after training and I just want some food on the table.”

Buying her own property has  become possible thanks to her blossoming career. Watson won about £200,000 in prize money last year, when she won her first title on the main tour, and is in demand with sponsors. Her latest round of media interviews was geared around promotion of her racket, the Dunlop Biomimetic M3.0.

The next fortnight, however, will be more about glory than cash. Watson loves playing at Wimbledon and cherishes her memories from last year, when she became the first British woman to win a match on Centre Court for 27 years and the first to reach the third round at the All England Club for 10 years.

“I absolutely love it,” she said. “Playing on Centre Court in front of everybody and winning – that is just the best feeling in the world.”

Heather Watson uses the new Dunlop Biomimetic M3.0 racket, available for £159.99, and Dunlop Black Widow string. To view Dunlop’s full 2013 range of tennis equipment and apparel visit Dunlop.com


Suggested Topics
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

Education: Football Beyond Borders

Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most