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Watson: 'Finals have to be won, they are never given to you'

Heather Watson applauds the crowd after winning her first round match.
by Alexandra Willis
Thursday 18 October 2012

The Guernsey girl, who left home at the age of 12 to realise her hopes of becoming a professional tennis player, believes that her maiden WTA title in Osaka is just the beginning...

As you would only expect, the 48 hours following Heather Watson's first WTA tour title were fairly frenetic ones. It wasn't quite of the level of Andy Murray's post US Open door-stepping of the major tv networks, photo shoots and British consulate receptions, but the reaction afforded to her achievement, the first British woman to win a WTA title in 24 years, further confirmed the bubbly Brit's burgeoning potential. 

"It's been pretty hectic to be honest," Watson told an audience of the British press on her return to the UK. "I played the final, which was longer than I'd hoped, then I had an hour to get ready for the doubles final, I didn't help, I didn't have much legs left. Then a celebratory dinner, had a bit of champagne, I don't really like champagne but had it anyway, then I flew the next morning."

Her phone buzzing with messages, texts and tweets of congratulation, and the usual phalanx of media requests, Watson was even treated to a rendition of the England cricketers' 'Sprinkler dance' by Judy Murray and a group of enthusiastic nine and under tennis players. But, as is Heather's wont, she's not content with finally overturning Sara Gomer's longstanding status as the last British female title-holder. 

"I’ve always believed in myself, I know I can win WTAs, but I’ve had opportunities to and not taken them and not believed enough in myself," she said. "Now that I’ve done it I have the belief, I can do it, it’s definitely given me more confidence and I’m really looking forward to next year." 

The Osaka final came very close to being a missed opportunity. Watson had a match point in the second set, but gave it too much 'boom boom' as she put it, and Chang Kai-Chen battled back to put herself in the position of serving for the match in the third set. 

"Being four match points down in the third set was very tough, to be honest at that point I thought I'm done here, 40-0, she's serving for it," Watson admitted. "But if you give me a little bit I'll take a lot, so as soon as she gave me that first match point I thought right I'm in here, I can get it back. 

"It was really tough to come through but I did. The feeling was just amazing, I was so happy."

Watson, whom Nick Bollettieri describes as 'damned competitive' frankly recognises that she is not the most powerful player out there, relying instead on her speed and athletic ability. But she says that taking the initiative is something she has been working on.

"In matches I’m usually the one on the defence,  trying to scramble everything back because I can move quite well," she said. "But recently, especially in this last tournament, I’ve been stepping up, hitting the ball a lot harder, hitting a lot more winners than I usually do, and also I think my serve’s really turning into a weapon rather than just a shot to start the point.

"The women’s game is just so boom boom and lots of girls play like that and if you don’t take that first opportunity they will, so to get to that next level, to win the tournaments you have to be able to do that."

She also points to her success on the doubles court, she has won two titles this year, as having played its part.

"I love playing doubles, I think that helps my game, and just being more aggressive because in doubles there’s no way you can not be aggressive because otherwise you won’t win," she said. "I think it definitely helped that I played two doubles finals earlier this year, I controlled my nerves better."

So what next for Watson? 

"The plan now is to do absolutely nothing and rest," she laughed. "Then I will start my training block here in London, then move over to the States and finish it there. Next year I haven’t 100% decided where I’m going to start, but at the moment it’s looking like Auckland." 

"I just have to keep focusing on the right things and not get too far ahead." 

Inevitably, as Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski found, wherever there's talk of Watson, there will be talk of Laura Robson, also something she doesn't shy away from. 

"It’s already a rivalry, we spur each other along, we’re competing all the time," Watson said. "But just because we’re competitive on the court doesn’t mean we can't be friends off the court. But when it comes to court time, we’ll do whatever we can to win, do as well as we possibly can for our careers. 

"We’re both great players, we can both achieve good things, most importantly we’re both so competitive in whatever we do, and when we see each other doing well we want to do just as well or even better." 

That may sound very level-headed for a 20-year-old, but Watson has been wise beyond her years for quite some time, much of which she puts down to being forced to look after herself while training at Bollettieri's as a youngster. 

"I was so excited, I remember I packed months before I had to go!" she laughed. " I had to do my own laundry, make sure I eat, look after myself. I grew so much as a person, and learnt about myself. There it’s very competitive, it’s all different sports, I was around athletes all the time, I learnt to be competitive."

Perhaps the most refreshing thing about Watson is that she makes no bones about the fact that it's hard work that has got her to where she is now. And there is a lot more work to do. 

"Nothing’s lucky. I don’t believe in luck," she said. "It’s what I want to do, I want to show people that they can do it too, and it sounds so cheesy but if they want to go out there and be a tennis player and win then they can do it, there’s nothing stopping them." 

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