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Heather Watson in search for inspiration as poor form continues at Eastbourne

By Paul Newman

Heather Watson will head for Wimbledon next week with only one grass-court victory under her belt this year after going down 6-2, 6-3 to Russia's Elena Vesnina in the first round of the Aegon International at Eastbourne.

The grass-court season is usually one of Watson's favourite periods of the year, but the 24-year-old Briton has struggled to make her mark in the current campaign.

Vesnina, who won the title here three years ago, is a useful grass-court player, but the 29-year-old Russian is ranked three places lower than Watson at No 53 in the world and came here without any competitive matches on grass this year.

Eastbourne is the most important women's grass-court tournament in the build-up to Wimbledon and has given Watson a good launch-pad in past years.

In her six previous appearances here the Briton had lost in the first round only once. Two years ago she made the semi-finals before losing to the eventual champion, Madison Keys.

Having lost first time out to Magdalena Rybarikova in her first grass-court tournament at Nottingham earlier this month, Watson beat Camila Giorgi in the first round at Edgbaston last week before losing to Barbora Strycova.

Although she would have faced a tricky second-round match here against Belinda Bencic, the defending champion, Watson had hoped for more against Vesnina.

"I definitely didn't play well today," Watson said afterwards. "I felt really out of timing and slow to the ball, but I'm not taking anything away from Elena. She played very well.

"And when I had my chances to come back and get into the match, she hit an ace or always made her first serve and played well."

Having had the start of her match delayed by bad weather, Watson said she had had a frustrating time of late, having also faced many delays at Edgbaston last week.

"I'm a little bit tired from waiting around," she said. "I have just literally been doing this for over a week. I was just a bit over it."

Britain's Tara Moore opened proceedings on centre court and had her chances before losing 7-5, 6-4 to Ekaterina Makarova, the world No 39. Naomi Broady completed a hat-trick of British defeats when she was beaten 6-1, 6-1 by Monica Puig in the last match.

Twelve months ago Johanna Konta arrived here at her home-town tournament as the world No 146. The 25-year-old Briton begins this year's event as the world No 18 after making huge strides in the intervening period. Reaching the quarter-finals here in 2015 with victories over Makarova and Garbine Muguruza proved a major launchpad as Konta went on to reach the fourth round of the US Open and semi-finals of the Australian Open.

"I'm really happy to be here at home, and it definitely gives me that extra feeling of comfort," Konta said. "I just get to pop in the car and drive over. I get to go home. I get to ask my Dad or Mum: 'Please make my breakfast.' That's quite nice."

She added: "Not many players can say that they actually have a home-town event. There are tournaments in your own country, but very few players - and not just in tennis, but I think athletes in general - can really stay at home and compete in one of their biggest events in their calendar, so I feel very lucky."

Konta has a first-round bye and will then meet either Germany's Laura Siegemund or Ukraine's Lesia Tsurenko. If she comes through that the opposition is unlikely to get any easier, with Petra Kvitova, twice a Wimbledon champion, a possible third-round opponent.

The draw is littered with former Grand Slam champions and runners-up, including Svetlana Kuznetsova, Sam Stosur, Caroline Wozniacki, Roberta Vinci, Sara Errani, Lucie Safarova and Dominika Cibulkova.

Laura Robson is confident she will be fit for Wimbledon despite having had to retire from her second qualifying match here on Sunday with a thigh injury. Robson said on Twitter that she was getting "solid treatment" on her leg and "will be all good for Wimbledon".

Belfast Telegraph

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