It’s been a big year for the Brits so far with the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations and the buzz surrounding the upcoming Olympic Games. Now Wimbledon 2012 can be added to the list as another cause for celebratory waving of the Union Jack, with Heather Watson becoming the first British woman in a decade to reach the third round at the All England Club.
Despite never before winning a match at Wimbledon, Watson has looked like a seasoned pro this week in SW19, her 6-1 6-4 victory over Jamie Hampton today following on from a straight-sets dismissal of Czech Iveta Benesova in round one.
How did it feel to follow compatriot Elena Baltacha’s footsteps into the last 32, 10 years later?
“I was completely unaware (of that stat). I don't really look or think about things like that. I just focus on myself and my next match,” the bubbly 20-year-old revealed.
“(But) it's kind of like an explosion of happiness, relief of the match, all that tension's kind of gone and it's setting in. I just love when the crowd is so loud at the end. It's an amazing feeling. That's why I play tennis, is for those moments.”
Watson found herself up against Hampton after the American upset 27th seed Daniela Hantuchova in the previous round. The match-up, although a blessing on paper, undoubtedly increased the pressure on the young Brit, favoured by an expectant home public to capitalise on her fortuitous draw and continue what has so far been an excellent run for local players at this year’s Championships.
Yet Watson handled the occasion beautifully. On a packed No.2 Court, she immediately broke serve on her way to a 3-0 lead in just nine minutes. She narrowly missed her first chance to make it 4-0, sending a spectacular running backhand just wide of the sideline.
No matter. Retaining her trademark poise and calm, Watson struck a crisp backhand return winner to secure that game, and moved ahead 5-0 after a flurry of errors from the American’s racket.
Watson’s playing style is built for grass, her compact game and ability to get low down to the ball – especially on her backhand – proving valuable. One must also be able to quickly adjust to unique bounces on the lawns, and the Brit showed she could do that too, improvising a wickedly sliced forehand in the seventh game to draw an error. Just two points later, she pocketed the set.
The second was a more competitive affair, characterised by a litany of service breaks. It was Watson who first bucked the trend, recovering from 0-40 down in the eighth game and saving four break points to eventually hold for 5-3. Having survived a match point in the next game, Hampton produced some bold tennis at net to hold and force Watson to serve out the match.
Impressively, the Brit didn’t buckle. Jogging to the baseline after the change of ends, she proved she meant business with two powerful first serves to move ahead 30-0. Despite a double fault on her first match point, Watson out-rallied the American on her second, celebrating joyously amid rapturous applause.
What a difference a year makes. Following a three-set injury-affected defeat to Mathilde Johansson at Wimbledon in 2011, Watson broke down in tears in her post-match press conference. It’s been a vastly happier story for the girl from Guernsey this time around.
“I wanted to (take) the next step, improve my game. If you want to get to the next level, you have to change things … I've been working on being more aggressive. And especially on the grass, you have to be,” she said.
“I always knew I could play this well, I could get far in these tournaments, but it's different playing like that in practice than bringing it on to the match court at big occasions with pressure. So I'm just pleased that it's finally clicking for me.”
She next faces either No.3 seed Agnieszka Radwanska or Russian Elena Vesnina.