French Open | Watson sweeps aside local favourite
Britain’s Heather Watson made a welcome return to form by sweeping aside Oceane Dodin, 6-3 6-0, in Paris on Monday.
Showing signs of the form that took her to a career high of No 38 in the world, Watson recovered from a shaky start to beat the home favourite, who began confidently with a break.
I was happy with my level throughout the whole match. Despite my season, I was feeling so confident coming into the match because I’ve done everything to prepare, to the best of my ability Heather Watson
The former British No 1 steadied the ship, getting onto the board before breaking back to level.
From that point on, Watson’s variety and increasing patience in defence began to draw errors from the Frenchwoman and she broke towards the end of the set before then serving it out to love.
The momentum stayed with the Guernsey native and she broke Dodin again with ease at the start of the second, cruising to a 5-0 lead.
Her toughest hurdle came in trying to close out the match, losing triple match point, saving four break points in total and finally getting over the line on her fifth advantage.
“I knew she’s sort of an all or nothing player and she was going to hit the ball as hard as she could. That’s how she plays,” Watson said after the match.
“So I knew that I’d just have to accept that she’s going to hit some winners and try my best to get as many balls in play but also, when I do have the chance to step in and play aggressive tennis, I think I did that really well today.”
Watson arrived at Roland Garros having lost 9 of her previous 10 matches, and looked nervous as she dropped her opening service game, but after breaking back for 2-all, her confidence visibly grew.
“I started a little nervous,” she said. “I was feeling really confident coming in, and loosened up. I played really, really well.
“It was tough to close it out. You could feel the rain coming up. Throwing the ball up to serve I kept getting water in my eyes.
“I was happy with my level throughout the whole match. Despite my season, I was feeling so confident coming into the match because I’ve done everything to prepare, to the best of my ability.”
While many might think this to be the springboard for a more confident stride through the end of the clay court season, Watson’s win against Kateryna Bondarenko in Nuremberg was really the key.
“My match against Bondarenko, that was a really big one for me,” she continued.
“I was just so pleased after that to have gotten through it, just because there’d been like this losing streak which I hadn’t even thought of until everybody starts writing about it. By everybody I mean you guys [laughing]!
“That starts to play on my mind when I wasn’t even thinking about that before. Because there’s always ups and downs in tennis, and that was the main one for me. It was different today. I felt very confident.”
Much like Konta, Watson’s form has been a variable over the past few months, and she admitted that not many outlets pay attention to her wins.
“If you have a mobile you can’t really escape it. I wish I could. But I think what’s important is the pressure I put on myself,” she said.
“It’s just managing that and trying rally hard not to listen to outside, because it’s usually more negative than positive anyway.
“Most people will write about when you – they’ll speak up when you lose and not [have] much to say when you win.
“They’ll count the losing streaks but not the winning streaks. So it’s just best to ignore it.”
Watson was fortunate to finish the match before increasing rain drove matches off all the courts.
Her possible opponents, either the 16th-seeded Elise Mertens from Belgium or USA’s Varvara Lepchenko, were into a deciding set when play was suspended.
“Whoever I play out of those two, I find them pretty even, with how I’d feel going in. No match is easy here so whoever I play, I’m going to have to play well again,” Watson concluded.
Mertens may have beaten Watson in the semi-final in Hobart at the start of the season, but it was in three sets and the Brit may do well to remember her excellent run there as her form resurges in Paris.