Heather Watson knows a great deal about Angelique Kerber. She knows that she is the world No.7. She knows that she is the ninth seed at Wimbledon. And she knows that she is tough to beat.
But this afternoon on Centre Court, Kerber learned something about Watson. The German No.1 may have triumphed, 6-2, 5-7, 6-1 over the British No.1, but it was by no means easy. And perhaps the next time they meet, things could turn out differently.
“I think she has a great future,” Kerber said. “She played well. She hits the balls very fast, and deep the lines. She's a very tough opponent, so you need to beat her. I actually expected a match like that. Heather is a great player. She's playing at home here. She had a great results in the last few weeks.
“I was trying to stay in the moment and try to be aggressive at the end. So I'm happy that I won the tough battle against her.”
Watson does not shy away from a battle. She has developed quite the reputation for getting herself out of tight corners, running and running until her opponent quite simply has enough. For a passage of time, that’s exactly what she did against Kerber, a fearsome figure on the other side of the net with two Grand Slam semi-finals to her name.
The softly-spoken German, whose calm character gives no hint of what she can do on a tennis court, had thundered through the first set with little care for Watson’s abilities, taking 26 minutes to win it 6-2. Despite producing just seven winners to Watson’s nine, Kerber was the steadier, breaking Watson three times as the pair adapted to life on Centre Court.
Watson, who has admitted to struggling with her sleep since recovering from glandular fever last year, was visibly frustrated, hopping up and down on the spot as her shots found the net rather than the court.
“I started very poorly,” she admitted. “A lot of unforced errors. Didn't serve very well. The set kind of went just very quickly.”
But in the second, one balanced out the other. With a new coach in her corner in the form of Diego Veronelli, Watson has worked at her court-craft, instilling some extra zip in a game that has not always been known for its power. She gave a taste of her new-found oomph in Eastbourne last week, unsettling Flavia Pennetta for the biggest scalp of her career. Urged on by the Centre Court crowd, she chose just the right moment to find it again.
“I didn't want to play her today as who she was,” Watson said. “I wanted to play her as just the person that's - I wanted to play the tournament. I didn't care who it was. Just wanted to get on the next round.”
Hanging tough with Kerber for eight games of the set, Watson yet again out-hit her for winners, 22 to 17, holding for 6-5, and breaking for 7-5 as she pushed Kerber out wide on the backhand.
“The second set I kept fighting through,” Watson said. “I found my way. I think from both of us there was some unbelievable tennis. I managed to take that second set and was very pleased with how I was playing. I thought I played very well.”
But the effort merely poked Kerber to a higher level. Breaking immediately on the return to court, the German wheeled away to a 3-0 lead, closing the match out for the loss of just a game as Watson’s 42 unforced errors proved to be her undoing.
“I was still playing well, but I didn't take my chances,” Watson said. “I had a lot of game points. They were still close. Just missing some easy balls. You can't do that against a player like her.”
“I think it was very important the first few games,” Kerber reflected afterwards. “I mean, to be up 3‑0, it was very important. Yeah, and then I think the game for 4‑1 was I think the key at the end.”
The German’s reward is a third-round encounter with Kirsten Flipkens, last year’s semi-finalist, and a wily competitor on grass who could make life very difficult for a player who relies on her rhythm.
“It's the next tough opponent. She played great last year here. She's playing good on grass,” Kerber said. “It will be tough. I will try to play like today, like focusing on myself. But, yeah, it will be not easy against her.”
For Watson meanwhile, it’s time for some time off. And then hard courts.
“I just don't want to lose in the second round,” she said adamantly. “I want to get further and beat these top players. I can't hope for a good draw. I've just got to make it happen. I'm positive about my game. I feel like it's a lot stronger than it has been. I'm getting a lot more consistent results.
“With more experience playing these top players, I think, you know, next time I'll learn to take my opportunities.”
She’s looking forward to it.
20:08It brings me no pleasure but it's time to bring the curtain down for another year. Seemed somehow appropriate to leave the last word to Roger Federer. Thanks a billion for reading. What a fortnight, what a final, fast forward to 2015 please...
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