I have always wanted a Brit to come through my academy here at Bradenton, Florida and make it on the pro tour. We've had several useful players from across the pond, but I'm not sure I've been as excited about any of them as I have been about Heather Watson. She's an exceptional talent and a great kid.
I'm told that her win against Stéphanie Foretz Gacon in the first round of the French Open was the first victory by a British woman at Roland Garros for 17 years. It could be just as significant for Heather herself as it was for her country, especially after she saved five set points in the first set.
Heather has lost some close contests lately. Until you start winning matches like that, and until the other girls start showing you some respect, then you're just a kid who's trying to break through. Heather needs to feel she belongs at the top. She also needs people to tell her how frigging good she is.
When she first came to Florida seven years ago what struck me immediately about her game was her movement. She was already quite a character, always smiling and always polite. I'm sure that comes from having such great parents. Michelle and Ian have always been supportive.
Heather calls me "The Doctor". She'll stop me and say: "Nick, you've got to fix up my backhand." She's very funny, very witty, very feisty. She's a happy-go-lucky kid who never moans and groans. She's on tour for much of the year now, but she'll work with our coaches whenever she comes back to Bradenton. I'll also help her whenever she asks.
Her game is based on great movement, but she's not afraid to whack the ball. She's not easy to beat. She has very good ground strokes, though she can over-hit and strike the ball a little too flat at times. On clay in particular she has to learn to keep her opponent behind the baseline, especially the big hitters who can dictate play. Her volleys are good and she has a decent serve, though she has to get more first serves in at key moments.
Heather works like heck but she needs to carry on improving. She can't win all her matches from the baseline. She needs to add some finesse, to hit drop shots, which are so important in today's game, to angle the ball and change the pace. Those things are all difficult for her.
Kaia Kanepi, her next opponent, is a big hitter. What Heather has to do is run down a lot of balls, make Kanepi move and make her over-hit. She mustn't try to outslug her. She needs to confuse her and keep her pegged back.
Given the way Heather moves, I think clay can be very good for her. Look out for her too at Wimbledon. Because she hits the ball flat she could do some damage in the first week, when the grass is really fast. Could she cope with the pressure of success there? I'll answer that with another question. Do they serve strawberries at Wimbledon?
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