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Paris progress also puts Watson on the road to Rio

By Eleanor Crooks

Published 24/05/2016

Smashing form: Heather Watson sends a return back across the net during her win against Nicole Gibbs
Smashing form: Heather Watson sends a return back across the net during her win against Nicole Gibbs

Heather Watson saw off Nicole Gibbs and the Paris weather to reach the second round of the French Open and all but secure her place at the Rio Olympics.

Rain forced the postponement of the match on Sunday night with American Gibbs, who is Watson’s doubles partner this week, a break up early in the third set, but Watson won all five games on the resumption to triumph 5-7 6-2 6-2 and set up a second-round clash with former champion Svetlana Kuznetsova.

Qualifying for Rio has been at the forefront of Watson’s mind all season, with the British No.2 describing the London Games as the best experience of her career.

She arrived at Roland Garros with points to defend having reached the second round last year and a first-round loss would have left the world number 54 vulnerable.

The cut-off comes immediately after the French Open, with the 56 top-ranked eligible players qualifying. Given only four players from any one country can compete, a ranking in the low 60s will be good enough.

More rain on Monday morning and then a five-set men’s match meant it was gone 5pm local time when Watson and Gibbs returned to Court 3.

There was no time for Watson to play herself in because she immediately faced a point for Gibbs to take a 3-1 lead, but crucially she won that and then secured the break of serve.

Four clean winners earned the Guernsey player another break and a 4-2 lead, and Watson then fought off break points in the next game before clinching victory with a smash. Gibbs was far from happy, hurling her racket before cursorily shaking Watson’s hand, but it was all smiles for the British player.

Meanwhile Garbine Muguruza and Agnieszka Radwanska progressed to the second round of the French Open in contrasting fashion.

Fourth seed Muguruza looked in trouble when she lost the first set to Anna Karolina Schmiedlova, who had lost her last 11 tour matches, but the Spaniard recovered to win 3-6 6-3 6-3 and will now play France’s Myrtille Georges.

Former finalist Simona Halep, seeded sixth this year, was even speedier, needing only 43 minutes to dismiss Nao Hibino by the same scoreline. Seventh seed Roberta Vinci was the biggest casualty so far, going down 6-1 6-3 to Kateryna Bondarenko.

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