On the first Friday of Wimbledon 2015 British No. 1 Heather Watson managed to do what very few women have achieved in the past decade. She managed to push one of the greatest players of all time, Serena Williams, right to her very limits.
Helped by a very vocal and, at times, ill-mannered home crowd, Watson not only took the second set from Serena but actually managed to serve for the match at 5-4 in the third.
Had it not been for a few unfortunate unforced errors, Watson would have forced the upset of the tournament and cemented her name in tennis history.
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Regardless of her hard-fought loss to the formidable American, Watson demonstrated unbelievable talent, nerve and confidence to give us one of the greatest matches the ladies game has seen for a considerable time.
Although currently ranked 59 in the world, she will receive a boost after her performance at Wimbledon this year after making the third round for only the second time in her career.
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In her post-match press conference, she told us how her goal for this year is to make the second week of a Gran Slam but after witnessing her incredible game against Williams on Friday, we think her sights should be a little higher and predict that the British No. 1 will be in the top 20 by this time next year.
Fitness and Footwork
When Watson squared up against Williams, she was running an average of 10.1 meters per point. She ran an astonishing 2072.5 meters in the course of the 2 hour 15 minute match yet rarely seemed to slow down or give up on points. The British No. 1, who was suffering from glandular fever not so long ago, demonstrated that she was as fit as the best in the world and proved that she had the athleticism to compete at the top level.
Watson’s fitness was complimented by her brilliant footwork. Many people, including Andy Murray, have noted that she moves brilliantly around the court and it has always been a cornerstone of her game. But with her fitness improving, Watson was able to really capitalise on her efficient movement and position herself to hit an impressive 20 winners against the world No. 1.
Another aspect of Watson’s game that has improved dramatically is her ability to defend when her opponent tries to close out points. Never was this more evident than in her match against Serena, who pushed Watson all over the court at every opportunity. At one set all and 4-4 in the third, Serena and Watson engaged in a 15 shot rally that saw Watson sprinting from side to side of the court. Serena must have been wondering what was required to get a ball past the Brit and, whether out of frustration or trying to do something special, she was forced to fire a forehand shot into the net.
This was just one of many examples where Watson’s ability to simply get every ball back was enough to force her opponent to play one more shot and eventually make an error. Watson was determined to chase down every ball and never give up on a point. And if she can withstand the kind of punishment Serena doles out to her opponents, she would certainly not be out of place in the top 20 of the women’s game.
Intelligent Point Building
Another thing that has always been constant with Watson’s game is her ability to see exactly what she has to do in the rallies and build points accordingly. Her accuracy and fitness have not always matched her vision but now she seems to have secured the game to back that up and has been able to craft some impressive rallies that allow her to always be one shot ahead of her opponent.
A perfect example of this was when she was serving for the second set and it was 15-15. She hit a perfect serve out wide which Serena returned before Watson hammered it down the line, requiring Serena to sprint to the other side of the court. What resulted was Watson dictating the point and making Serena look like the mouse at the hands of the cat as Watson pushed her wider and wider before stepping in and hitting the perfect volley to take the point. The commentators deemed it the best rally of the match and Watson never looked out of control or unsure of her intentions.
But she also proved she could change up her tactics when needed, enjoying a remarkable 90% success rate at the net and never being afraid to drop or lob the Grand Slam champion. Watson has the complete game and knows how to use it. Since the start of 2015, she has demonstrated a higher consistency and if she can keep it up, she will make a rapid ascent up the rankings.
The most impressive part of Watson’s game this year seems to be her very grounded but confidant mentality that has no doubt had a positive impact on her performance. Ahead of her clash with Serena, she expressed excitement at the prospect of playing the best player in the world. Upon defeat, she spoke of opportunities and how she was pleased she had given herself the opportunity to play the best and even to beat the best when she served for the match. And whilst she was unable to take the opportunity this time, she was completely positive about her ability to compete with the top players in the world.
This self-belief was very evident throughout the match with Serena Williams as she repeatedly thwarted Serena’s attempts to break her serve. Williams was only able to convert 7 of her 20 break point, giving her a conversion rate of only 35% which is surprisingly low for a champion of Serena’s calibre. In contrast, Watson converted 5 of her 7 chances, giving her a conversion rate of 71% and proving that she knew to take the opportunities when they arrived.
Watson also played with impressive accuracy. Whilst Serena hit 33 unforced errors, Watson kept hers to a cool 11 but hit a total of 20 winners. This ratio is often the key indicator as to why a player lost the match when the errors outweigh the winners but for Watson, it was simply a case of being outplayed. Williams was able to hit 13 aces against the Brit. Take these away and they won almost exactly the same amount of points.
It was her tenacity that kept her in the match and forced it to go the distance as her self-belief led her to take the second set and go 3-0 in the third. It’s difficult to really pick out how Watson lost the match on paper. It can only really boil down to nerves and perhaps the occasion getting the better of her as she served for the match. Once she can solidify her mental game, she will be a formidable opponent for any of the top players on tour.
Where do you see Heather Watson in a year’s time?
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