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Buoyant Heather Watson cruises into second round

by Kate Mason
Tuesday 24 June 2014

Heather Watson’s ranking (60) is now high enough for her to automatically earn a place in the main draw at The Championships. She celebrated her Wimbledon spot with a characteristically enthusiastic Facebook post: "Guess who's the last direct acceptance into Wimbledon main draw?... ME J ‪#‎cmon ‬‪#‎somotivated‬ ‪#‎watsonloveswimby‬ !"

Though we’re not sure the hashtag will catch on, her delight at being back on court at the All England Club translated into a superb win on Tuesday. She defeated the higher-ranked Ajla Tomljanovic 6-3, 6-2 in just over an hour.

The 21-year-old Croatian world No.53 looked like a tough draw. As an eager full house gathered on No.3 Court to welcome Britain’s top female player, the seating attendant looked as if such duress made her question the stand’s structural integrity. "This is going to be the busiest it’s been," she fretted, fending off VIPs.

Electing to serve, Watson withstood an early attack, saving a break point. Though her first serve percentage dropped to 40, she continued to attack from high up the court. Capitalising on half-opportunities, the Guernsey girl broke Tomljanovic’s first service game and the crowd fell into taut silence as she held to go 3-0 up.

In the first set, she saved four break points in total. Each time, her bold deep serves, even when defending, were rewarded by errors from her frustrated opponent. Her fearlessness seemed to mark the new post-glandular fever Watson era.

Crowd confidence built to raucousness after the Eastbourne semi-finalist closed out the first set and snatched an early break in the second. Tomljanovic’s error count rose in the second set – 11 unforced errors to Watson’s single – and her self-belief diminished.

Despite her great run to the fourth round at Roland Garros, where she saw off third seed Agnieszka Radwanska in straight sets, the young Croat never really found her way into the match. Much head-shaking accompanied slumped shoulders and her second straight loss of serve as she went 4-1 down in the second. And Watson made sure of her place in the second round when she took the match with a love service game at 5-2.

Characteristically modest, she paid tribute to her opponent: "She's climbed the rankings very quickly after being out of tennis with mono glandular fever, as well, and it was tough. She hits a hard ball, hard heavy ball, and has a big serve.

A lot of those games, I didn't even get close. But the games I did, I took advantage.’

Watson’s third round run at 2012 Wimbledon is her top equal performance at a Grand Slam (the other being the Australian Open last year). Her stated aim is to break the second week of a Grand Slam this year, and with Wimbledon the third of four in the calendar, her home tournament seems as good a place to start as any.

She saluted the power of a home crowd greedy for yet more champions. "I had a lot of support today: the whole crowd. I had a lot of friends as well that had come to watch. And from the beginning when I walked onto the court and they said my name, the crowd was very positive and behind me the whole way. I really enjoyed playing here today and on that court. I do like that court a lot.’

She left the court with a thumbs-up and trademark sunny smile, but Watson’s understated celebrations at the straight sets win suggested she’s pacing herself for many more to come.

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