Hobart | Watson and top seeds move into quarters
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Heather Watson, the 2015 champion, endured poor lighting and a court switch before reaching the quarter-finals at the Hobart International where she will meet another former champion and the top seed Elise Mertens.
It is not nice when you are warmed up and ready to play, and then you try to go out and then you have to go inside, outside, again. I tried not to think about it, don’t give it a lot of thoughts. Just stay here [in the player lounge] and stay active, thinking about what I have to do. Garbiñe Muguruza
While the two top seeds, Mertens and Garbiñe Muguruza reached their appointed spots in the quarters with matches played on centre court, Watson’s second round match took place on the west court, an outside court where the lighting was not up to regulation for a pro tennis event.
Watson will be boosted in the knowledge that, having initially been just outside the ranking cut-off, withdrawals have allowed her to make it into the main draw next week’s Australian Open for a 9th straight year.
Last season was largely disappointing for her, with a first-round loss to Petra Martic in Melbourne part of an 8-match losing streak, but Watson finished the year by reaching a 4th WTA Tour final in Tianjin, and remains a player capable of strong results.
Watson’s best performance in Melbourne came in 2013, when she reached the third round.
With the Briton having won the first set and leading 3-2 in the second against France’s Fiona Ferro, the match was suspended due to ‘darkness’.
The match had also been delayed by rain, but Watson took a comfortable early lead before being levelled up by the Frenchwoman, whom she beat in qualifying in Brisbane in 2 tight sets.
It took a first set tiebreak to resolve the matter between them, which Watson won by 7 points to 5, but then, as darkness fell, the two battled on until, at 3-2 with Ferro serving, the match was suspended.
Following Elise Merten’s demolition of Viktoria Kuzmova with the loss of just one game, the match was resumed on the centre court under the lights.
After both players held serve on resumption, it was Watson who scored the break to go up 5-3 and then served out the match to win through, 7-6(5) 6-3, after an hour 53 minutes of play and a long testing day.
“It’s been a long day,” Watson said in her on-court interview, adding that both she and her opponent had struggled under the poor lights on the west court.
“I’m just going to rest up now, as best as I can, to be ready for tomorrow.”
Much earlier, Muguruza, the 2014 Hobart champion, had to save a match point to hold off an inspired challenge from qualifier Ons Jabeur en route to the quarters.
The No 2 seed had to dig deep, needing 2 hours and 23 minutes to win a rain-interrupted battle against the qualifier from Tunisia, 3-6 6-3 7-6(4).
“Very tough match,” Muguruza told press afterwards. “She was playing very loose and playing just really incredible, so I mean, when your opponent is playing like that you have to level up your game and stay with her until the last moment.
“I had a match point down, but I never gave up. And in the end I was rewarded this time, but I’m happy with the fighting spirit until the last minute.”
Muguruza has kicked off her season well, with a semi-final run at the Shenzhen Open last week.
It augurs well for the Spaniard, who hit a rough patch last year and was unable to reach the late stages of any tournament in 9 months, when she lifted the trophy in Monterrey.
Up against Jabeur for the first time on centre court, Muguruza was facing another on fire opponent in the Tunisian, who had to battle past two rounds of qualifying and win her first-round match against Anna Blinkova to meet her.
Jabeur sneaked the first set as both players had to contend with sporadic rain showers moving through Hobart, particularly during the second.
Muguruza was up 4-2 after claiming an early break, and then had to leave the court for a lengthy break.
On resumption, they managed just one game before the skies opened up again, sending them back into the locker room with the Spaniard leading 5-2.
“It is not nice when you are warmed up and ready to play, and then you try to go out and then you have to go inside, outside, again,” Muguruza explained.
“I tried not to think about it, don’t give it a lot of thoughts. Just stay here [in the player lounge] and stay active, thinking about what I have to do.”
Muguruza stayed calm against the conditions, confidently serving out the second set to level, but then ran into another flurry from Jabeur.
The pair traded breaks twice to start the decider, staying level at 2-2; Muguruza creating 2 break opportunities which she could not convert.
Jabeur pounced on the scoreboard pressure with Muguruza serving to stay in the match at 6-5, and a double fault, one of Muguruza’s 7 in the match, gifted Jabeur match point.
The 2-time Grand Slam champion fought back, taking the match into a tiebreak where Muguruza took control, opening up a 5-1 lead and taking her 2nd match point.
In the quarters, the Spaniard takes on the 5th-seeded Veronika Kudermetova, who took out Catherine Bellis, 7-6(6) 6-1.
“Physically, it’s really a challenge [after being on court for this long],” Muguruza said of her upcoming quarter-final. “I just have to recover as quick as I can, try to keep playing.
“But today, that’s probably the toughest match out of all the ones I played this year… It’s going to be good for the rest of the year, these kinds of matches. Not only for Australian Open.
”You know, you have a match point down, and it’s tough, and you’re hanging in there, and you ended up winning – it’s a very rewarding feeling.”
Top seeded Mertens had a comfortable win over Viktoria Kuzmova, the Belgian taking just 56 minutes to dispatch the Slovakian, 6-1 6-0.
Mertens, who won Hobart in 2017 and 2018, is undefeated in Tasmania and now posts a perfect 14-0 winning record on the island after overcoming the WTA World No 61.
After an awkward beginning to the match, which was delayed by around 2 hours due to rain, the Belgian strung together 5 successive games as her groundstrokes began to find their mark.
She was then unrelenting in the second set, which she won without dropping a game.
“No match is easy, and the score was maybe a bit different than the game scores – there were a lot of 40-alls,” she said.
“I did well on the break points and on my big serving points.
“I had to relax my mind during the day. Sometimes the rain comes and you have to wait a bit and I think I managed that well.”