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Tour report - Watson ends 24-year wait in Osaka

Heather Watson pumps her fist after winning a point.
by Alexandra Willis
Monday 15 October 2012

It couldn't happen to a nicer 20-year-old. That's the overwhelming reaction to Heather Watson's landmark win in Osaka on Sunday, the Briton saving four match points to defeat Taipei's Chang Kai-Chen in three nail-grinding sets, 7-5, 5-7, 7-6(4), and become the first British woman to win a WTA singles title since Sara Gomer at Aptos in 1988. 

Watson has such a sunny disposition that you would be hard-pressed to imagine her as a ruthless individual on the tennis court. But that impression belies an inner steel that has catapulted her into the world's top 50, even if she can't quite believe it herself. 

"I was in the changing room afterwards, changing my clothes, and I thought to myself, 'Did I really win?' So it's just starting to settle in," Watson said. "I've worked so hard for this moment my whole career - that's why I practiced so hard, ran all those miles and lifted all those weights, for moments like this.

"Britain has been breaking quite a few records recently, so I'm happy I could break another one today. I'm proud to do this for my country."

Watson, who had seen fellow Brit Laura Robson become the first British woman to reach a WTA singles final since Jo Durie in 1990 when she motored into the Guangzhou final two weeks earlier, only to be denied by another player from Taipei, Hsieh Su-Wei, saved four match points during the three hour and 11 minute thriller. 

"I was already thinking about how I was going to cry in the locker room!" she joked. "But after I saved the first one, I just took it point by point. I'm really proud of myself for getting through that."

"Laura and I have come through the rankings together - juniors and seniors - and we're both very competitive, so when we see the other doing well, it pushes us," Watson said about her friend and Fed Cup teammate. "Knowing Laura did so well in China a few weeks ago definitely motivated me this week. But I think it's great we're really good friends off the court as well."

Watson's victory was the first of three British finals over the weekend, as she and Japanese heroine Kimiko Date-Krumm returned to the court for the doubles final. But the duo were outclassed by Raquel Kops-Jones and Abigail Spears, the top seeds. 

Across the Yellow China Sea, in Shanghai, Andy Murray featured in the third British final of the weekend, as he took on Novak Djokovic. Seeking to defend his title, Murray saw five match points come and go as Djokovic re-wound the clock to 2011, producing some astonishing strokeplay to win 5-7, 7-6(11), 6-3 in three hours and 21 minutes. 

It was Djokovic's second straight title in China, and, throwing out some Mandarin as he thanked the crowd for their support, the country clearly suits him well. 

"It's difficult to judge who was better because it was so close throughout the whole match," Djokovic said. "We had so many rallies in three and a half hours; for a best-of-three set match it is a very long time. Could have easily gone the other way. He was five match points up. When I faced those match points, I tried to focus on each individually. He was so close to the victory that I cannot say I was the better player."

"It was a disappointing one to lose," Murray said. "I've lost tougher matches than that before in the biggest events. So I'm sure I'll recover from it pretty well.

"The second set, I probably played a little bit better. But he came up, served very well on the match points. The one match point I had on my serve, he hit the forehand onto the edge of the line. On the game where I served for the match, he also came up with some good shots.

"It's not like I threw the match away. I didn't make any real glaring errors or anything. When I had my chances, he just served very well and hit a couple of lines when he needed to."

While Djokovic has moved to within a few hundred points of world No.1 Roger Federer, who begins this week in the top spot for the 300th week of his career, Victoria Azarenka firmly cemented her place as the WTA's leading lady with her second title in as many weeks. 

Winning her 13th straight match and 26th consecutive set since the US Open, the Belarusian swept aside Julia Goerges to win the title in Linz, a week after winning Beijing. 

"I was coming to Linz for the first time and everywhere you go you try to win, and I'm really happy I could go all the way through this tournament," Azarenka said. "I'm happy to end the week with such a beautiful trophy and a smile on my face."

As a result, Azarenka finds herself tied with Serena Williams for the most titles so far this year with six. All of which makes next week's WTA Championships in Istanbul extremely intruiging. 

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