Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 26 July 2014

Wimbledon: British joy over Watson win

What a difference a year makes. Twelve months ago Heather Watson was in tears after what she called "the hardest defeat of my professional career", having suffered an elbow injury when she appeared to be on the way to her first Wimbledon victory.

Yesterday the 20-year-old from Guernsey wore a smile as broad as the English Channel as she became the first British woman to reach the third round here for 10 years. A 6-1, 6-4 victory over Jamie Hampton, of the United States, sent Watson through to a third-round meeting tomorrow with Agnieszka Radwanska, the world No 3.



Two days after becoming the first British woman to win a match on Centre Court for 27 years, Watson won so emphatically on No 2 Court, where play began at 11.30am, that she was back in the locker room before a ball had been struck on the main show courts. Hampton, ranked three places higher than her at No 100, was outplayed for long periods as the Briton kept the American on the run with the intelligence of her play.



Although the draw has been kind to Watson, who should climb about 20 places in the world rankings on the basis of her latest win, she has won both her matches with a confidence that belied the fact that she had never previously won a match here. Hampton, moreover, had beaten Daniela Hantuchova, the world No 29 and a former Wimbledon quarter-finalist, in the first round.



Watson was 5-0 up in 20 minutes, had the first set in the bag eight minutes later and was soon 2-0 up in the second. Hampton, finding a better rhythm, pushed harder in the latter stages and saved a match point when serving at 3-5. Watson served a double-fault on her second match point in the following game but kept her composure to see out the victory, which she celebrated with a joyful dance in the middle of the court and a smile that could have melted the ice in a thousand Pimm's.



"As soon as that last point was over for me, it was like an explosion of happiness," she said later. "I just love it when the crowd is so loud at the end. It's an amazing feeling. That's why I play tennis, for those moments."



The world No 103 was so keen to please that in her post-match press conference she seemed reluctant to disappoint a Scottish journalist who wondered whether her name indicated any connections north of the border. "My Dad is from Manchester and my Mum is from Papua New Guinea, so no," she said, almost apologetically.



Watson has been based at Nick Bollettieri's academy in Florida since she was 12. She won the US Open junior title three years ago and loves the big occasion. Last year she became the first British woman for 28 years to come through qualifying at the French Open and went on to become the first to win a match in the main draw for 17 years. Later in the summer she went within six points of beating Maria Sharapova in the first round of the US Open.



Asked whether the prospect of facing the world No 3 tomorrow was "exciting or terrifying", Watson said: "Oh, definitely not terrifying. It's exciting. I'm looking forward to it. I'm in the third round now. I'm relaxed about it, as well."



Watson had slept poorly after the excitement of her first-round win and admitted that "last night wasn't great either". She added: "This whole week I've been sleeping pretty bad, but if I keep playing like this, I don't really mind.



"I always knew I could play this well, that I could get far in these tournaments, but it's different playing like that in practice to bringing it on to the match court at big occasions with pressure. I'm just pleased that it's finally clicking for me. I'm still quite new to the tour. I've only been on it a few years now. I'm learning every day. I'm glad that finally I'm bringing what I've been doing in practice to the match court.



"I've been known as a counter-puncher, good at moving and reading the game well, and I wanted to get to the next step, improve my game. If you want to get to the next level, you have to change things. I've been working with my coach and Nick [Bollettieri] at being more aggressive, coming to the net. I can volley. I love to volley. I probably volleyed once today and missed it. I've been working on being more aggressive. And especially on the grass, you have to be."



Elena Baltacha, who was the last British woman to reach the third round here, and Anne Keothavong, the British No 1, will attempt to join Watson in the third round today but both face top 10 opposition. Baltacha meets Petra Kvitova, the defending champion, while Keothavong takes on Italy's Sara Errani, who reached the final of the French Open three weeks ago.

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