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Unflustered Watson puts US Open issues down to coincidence

 

By Paul Newman

When Heather Watson won the US Open Junior title here eight years ago she could hardly have imagined what lay in store for her at Flushing Meadows.

The transition from junior to senior tennis can be so tough that it is dangerous to take anything for granted, but given that the 25-year-old Briton has been ranked high enough to get into the main draw here every year since 2011, her subsequent record is remarkable: six successive appearances and six successive first-round defeats.

"I genuinely think it's just coincidence," Watson said with a laugh as she looked ahead here to her first-round meeting today with France's Alize Cornet. "Let's go with that. It has to be because I've won the Juniors here. All my titles are on hard courts. I love hard courts, especially these ones. It's genuinely just coincidence."

For three years Watson could certainly put her first-round exits down to the luck of the draw as she lost to Maria Sharapova, Li Na and Simona Halep. Since then, however, three losses to lower-ranked opponents - Sorana Cirstea (World No.80), Lauren Davis (No.84) and Richel Hogenkamp (No.165) - have been increasingly hard to explain.

Watson, who has been based at the IMG Academy in Florida since she was 12, joked with British reporters that they had been responsible for her losses. "I blame you guys," she said with a laugh. "You started saying: 'Oh, it's your fourth year lucky, fifth year lucky' and so on."

Despite her record at this tournament, Watson is in good spirits. "I'm feeling really good about my game at the moment," she said. "I've been in Florida for the last week and a bit, so I'm feeling super-fit, because it's so hot there that it's kind of unbearable."

Having failed to qualify for the French Open, Watson began this summer's grass-court season ranked outside the world's top 100, but a return to the green grass of home helped to revive her form and her spirits.

She had won eight matches on grass by the time she got to Wimbledon, where she reached the third round of the singles before losing to Victoria Azarenka, and reached the final of the mixed doubles with Henri Kontinen.

Although Watson was back up to No.75 in the world by the start of the summer hard-court season, her rise had not been in time to prevent her having to go into qualifying. She retired mid-match because of a shoulder problem against Naomi Osaka in Toronto but has recovered since and won four of the seven matches she played across the tournaments.

Watson had also achieved her main goal going into the grass-court season, which was to move back up the world rankings. "I love the grass," she said.

"I'd been a bit down. I'd been outside the top 100 for a bit and my goal in that grass-court season was to get in the main draw here. I did that. I kept the momentum".

Now the 25-year-old from Guernsey is aiming to get back into the world's top 50 by the end of the year. "That would really help on the entries for tournaments because the cut at places like Cincinnati and New Haven is always around 50," she said.

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