Following her title win in Acapulco, Heather Watson heads for Monterrey in Mexico this week where, should she win her opening encounter with her former doubles partner, Germany’s Tatjana Maria, she could meet the British No 1 Johanna Konta in the second round, providing her fellow Brit can get past Kim Clijsters.
I feel like, with the tennis that I’ve been playing, I’m improving. I still have a good level in me. I’ve played one official match so far, and some practice sets. I would like to have more matches, and that’s the only way that I can practice certain things that you can only learn from matches. In practice, I’m moving better, I’m reacting better, I’m making better decisions. It has to happen in the match now. Kim Clijsters
With her first title since 2016 under her belt, Watson became only the second player in WTA history to win the titles at both Acapulco and Monterrey, which she won 4 years ago.
The Brit breaks back into the Top 50 this week at No 49 after beating 17-year-old Leylah Fernandez on Saturday, the youngest Canadian to reach a WTA singles final in 34 years since Helen Kelesi at the Japan Open in Tokyo in1986.
Watson could meet the Canadian again in the title-match of the 12th edition of the Abierto GNP Seguros in Monterrey, as they feature in opposite halves of the draw.
She is the only former champion competing in this year’s main draw, and is joined by 2019 runner-up Victoria Azarenka, competing in her first tournament since 2019 US Open.
With former World No 1s Clijsters, Azarenka and Venus Williams in the pack, the draw feels distinctly old school as it harks back to the US Open in 2012 when they all last appeared together.
The draw in Monterrey is headlined by WTA World No 7 Elina Svitolina, who is also making her tournament debut.
Konta is the 2nd seed at the WTA International event, and she returns to match play with a first round clash with Clijsters, who continues to make her comeback to pro tennis after an absence of some 8 years.
The Belgian reportedly landed on Friday with 7 bags and part of her family in tow to compete in her second pro tournament since 2012.
“From the moment we got picked up at the airport, people have been really friendly,” Clijsters told the media on Sunday.
“It’s a very beautiful area. I’m excited to be here and to be playing here in Monterrey, and for the first time in South America.”
She believes she is on the right track with her comeback, having put in a credible performance in Dubai, against Garbiñe Muguruza where, despite recording a loss, she showed glimpses of her past form.
Clijsters, who is wild-carded into the main draw, faces another tricky test in Konta, although the Brit is finding it hard to get off the mark in 2020 as she deals with recurring knee issues, and has yet to win a match in 2020.
Konta withdrew from Doha because of her knee and if she is not fully fit, then the bottom half of the draw could well open right up for Watson or Clijsters.
“I feel like with the tennis that I’ve been playing, I’m improving. I still have a good level in me. I’m still at the stage where I feel like I need match rhythm,” Clijsters told wtatennis.com.
“I’ve played one official match so far, and some practice sets. I would like to have more matches, and that’s the only way that I can practice certain things that you can only learn from matches.
“In practice, I’m moving better, I’m reacting better, I’m making better decisions. It has to happen in the match now. I think the more matches I get to play, the more that will improve a little bit, and we’ll see how far I can go.”
The 36-year-old is currently unranked on the WTA Tour and it is not the first time she has staged a return to the sport, having first retired back in 2007 at the age of 23 before returning two years later.
So far in her career, she has won 4 majors, 3 of them during her first comeback, and spent a total of 20 weeks at the top of the WTA rankings.
She is coached on the tour by Fred Hemmes Jr, a former top 200 player who previously worked with Ruben Bemelmans and the Belgian Tennis Federation.
“It’s a process. It’s a process of ups and downs, and I think that’s something you have to understand. It comes with failure, but I think it’s how you deal in the moments where it’s the toughest,” Clijsters added.
“That’s when you improve the most, when you learn the most about yourself and when you’re capable of improving. I think that was something I was always able to do well.
“When I lost in the past I was disappointed, but after a certain about of time, I was able to make that switch in my head and use it, and that’s how I was able to become better.
“I think it’s that kind of mindset. It’s important to not get discouraged about the losses, and use it to motivate you even more.”
It is the first time Clijsters has played in Mexico and, after her run, she will travel to America for the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, where she has also received a wild card to play.
The match against Konta will be another first for Clijsters, as she and the Brit have never played each other.
“I haven’t seen that many players yet. I’ve played one tournament, and I’m really trying to focus on my tennis and my fitness, so I’m not around as much,” Clijsters continued.
“I’ve seen a lot of new faces, a lot of girls that I don’t know, but that I’m starting to get to know a little bit. I’ve been practicing with different girls, and that’s been fun.
“There are also girls that I know really well. Azarenka, I saw her yesterday, or Simona Halep [a practice partner in Dubai], who I’ve seen for many years.”