Heather Watson did not reach any more Wimbledon milestones here this year but the 22-year-old from Guernsey should feel proud of her achievements in recent weeks.
Watson’s 6-2, 5-7, 6-1 defeat at the hands of Angelique Kerber on Centre Court ended the host nation’s interest in the women’s singles, but there were plenty of reasons why the British No 1 can look to the future with encouragement.
Kerber, a 26-year-old German, is one of the most durable and consistent performers on the women’s tour, but Watson matched her blow for blow in a memorable second set, only to fade quickly in the decider.
Although there was a lesson to be learned in terms of the need to maintain momentum and not let an opponent back into the match, Watson will know that there are not many tougher nuts to crack than the world No 7.
The very fact that Watson has been here this week without the benefit of a wild card is a tribute to all the hard work she has put in to recover from glandular fever, which laid her low last year.
Four months ago she was No 161 in the world, but she made sufficient progress to become the last player to make the main draw here by dint of her ranking. She is now up to No 60 and likely to make more progress when the lists are updated on Monday week.
Two years ago Watson became the first British woman to win a match on Centre Court since 1985 and went on to become the first to reach the third round here for 10 years. To match that performance she needed to beat an opponent who probably gets back as many balls as anyone in the women’s game.
Kerber may not be the most charismatic of players, but the 26-year-old left-hander never gives up on a point and is deceptively quick around the court. If she can err too often on the side of caution, she has the weapons – particularly on the forehand side – to trouble the best.
Watson made too many unforced errors – 42 to Kerber’s 21 – but that is the price you pay for being the more aggressive player. Watson, who has sometimes been too defensive in the past, is playing a more attacking game these days and there was no way she would have simply outlasted Kerber.
The match began in a strangely subdued atmosphere, many spectators having taken a break after the previous match between Rafael Nadal and Lukas Rosol. Watson started in similarly low-key fashion.
The Briton held serve only once in the first set, which Kerber won in just 26 minutes. As the stadium started to fill up again, so Watson’s level rose.
The first four games of the second set all went with serve and the second four all went against serve. With Watson serving first, the Briton showed great spirit to keep her chances alive. At 4-4 she played her best game of the match.
Kerber had four break points and on each occasion defended doggedly, forcing Watson to keep going for her shots.
On Watson’s first set point the Briton hit a return long and on the second Kerber struck a big backhand winner down the line. On the third Watson’s crunching backhand return had Kerber in trouble and the German put a backhand into the net.
Applause rang around the stadium, but Watson was unable to repeat the huge effort she had put into levelling the match. The Briton recovered from 40-15 down to deuce in the opening game of the decider but a netted volley gave Kerber the break. Watson worked hard in a bid to retrieve it, but Kerber went 2-0 up with a thumping forehand winner then broke again courtesy of two missed backhands.
Watson, to her credit, broke back to 3-1 with a splendid backhand cross-court winner, but it was her final flourish. The Briton saved three match points when she served at 5-1 down, but on the fourth she netted a backhand as she went for a winner down the line.
“When I walked off the court I was very upset,” Watson said. “I started very poorly. I made a lot of unforced errors and didn’t serve very well. The first set went very quickly. In the second set I kept fighting and found my way. I think from both of us there was some unbelievable tennis. I managed to take that second set and was very pleased with how I was playing.
“Then in the third set I felt I was still playing well, but I didn’t take my chances. I had a lot of game points. They were still close. I was just missing some easy balls. You can’t do that against a player like her.”