After the thrills of the French Open played out on the clay courts of Roland Garros, attention turns swiftly to the grass court season, which kicks off in the UK at Nottingham this week, where Heather Watson, Harriet Dart and Jodie Burrage were in action on Monday, and all won through to the second round of the Rothesay Open, a WTA 250 event that will receive ranking points.
It’s an honour to be part of the Jubilee celebrations here in Nottingham and plant this beautiful cherry blossom tree, which will grow and blossom as the Centre evolves. Heather Watson
All won in straight sets, with Watson, the British No 2, defeating 20-year old Katie Volynets, 6-4 6-2, who had to take a medical timeout to have her right thigh strapped after being broken by the American as she served for the opener.
Competing at Nottingham for a 6th time at Nottingham and now ranked 102, Watson returned to clinch the 7th break of the tight first set, before romping to a 5-0 lead in the second, and closing out the match after an hour and 42 minutes.
“It was a relief to get over the line,” said Watson. “It was a weird one today.
“In the beginning of the first set I tweaked my hamstring, and it was just getting worse and worse. I was dreading having to pull out.
“The trainer recommended not to continue but I said I have to… it’s the only grass season of the year! I really felt the support and that pushed me over the line.”
The opening set was a battle of breaks, with both struggling to hold onto their serves, particularly Volynets, who won just 42% of points on her first delivery.
Ultimately, Watson’s hold at 3-3 proved the decisive moment in the set as both players went back and forth with 7 breaks in total.
Watson looked more comfortable in the second, and rifled a stunning backhand return winner down the line to take a 2-0 lead.
Volynets could not match the Brit for power and pace, and Watson relentlessly worked her opponent around the court, completing a dominant win to set up a potential 2nd-round encounter with British No 1 Emma Raducanu, who is seeded No 2 here.
When asked about the prospect of playing Raducanu next, if the British No 1 comes through, Watson added: “I’ll be watching that, I’ll be following the scores.
“For me I’ll just take it as another match. I’m looking forward to it.”
Raducanu, the 19-year old wild-card, opens with a tricky match against Switzerland’s Victorija Golubic on Tuesday, and is predicted to reach the final against the top seed Maria Sakkari, who meets Colombia’s Camila Osorio first.
Watson, who is now 30, has won 4 WTA singles titles, and can now add tree-planting to her repertoire after marking The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee over the weekend by doing just that as part of the Queen’s Green Canopy initiative.
“It’s an honour to be part of the Jubilee celebrations here in Nottingham and plant this beautiful cherry blossom tree, which will grow and blossom as the Centre evolves,” Watson said.
The LTA recently took over the management of the Nottingham Tennis Centre, where 25-year old Dart upended any hopes of Donna Vekic defending her title, 6-4 6-3, and ending the Londoner’s 4-match losing streak.
After a difficult start in the blustery conditions against the World No 90, Dart, the British No 3, went down a break down from the opening game but eventually found her feet, as errors crept into Vekic’s game, with the Croatian also battling against the weather.
“You have to stay really low and really aggressive on grass, otherwise you’re on the back foot a lot,” the World No 111 said during her on-court interview. “I really enjoy being back on home turf, and I’m looking forward to my next match.”
In the pivotal game at 5-4, Vekic hit the net cord with a volley at deuce, and followed it up with a wide forehand on set point to concede the set.
The second followed in similar style, with Dart again coming from a break down, thanks to a flurry of errors, edging ahead 5-3 and holding her nerve to see out her first grass court win of the season against a tough opening round opponent.
Dart next could face British wild-card Sonay Kartal or Italy’s Camila Giorgi in round two.
Asked if she was targeting a return to the world’s top 100, Dart said: “Yes, for sure. At the end of the day, I want to win matches week in, week out, and then the rankings will take care of themselves.
“For me, it’s just more of a focus on each match as it comes.
“I don’t really have too many goals for this grass court season. I want to enjoy each match, put in good performances, win against each player, and try to do it each match.”
Dart toppled reigning Raducanu at Nottingham last year before the teenager embarked on her remarkable climb to the US Open title.
Speaking about her compatriot’s journey, Dart, who came through the LTA’s Pro Scholarship Programme, the highest level of support for players aged 16-24, added: “She’s had an amazing run.
“All of us British girls practice together so I was aware of her. I was always expecting a tough match last year but I managed to come through
“What she’s been able to do over the last year has been remarkable.
“I think anything is possible – anyone can play a good level at any given day and beat anyone. Consistency is the key for rankings.”
Meanwhile, Burrage, ranked 235, completed the trio of Brits making it through to the second round after winning a tough contest with World No 96 Lin Zhu from China, 7-6(5) 6-4.
It was the second time Burrage has beaten Zhu, after claiming her career best victory against the Chinese at the Surbiton Trophy last week.
In a close opening set, Burrage, the British No 8, fought her way back from 5-3 down in the tiebreak to win 4 points on the bounce and pull ahead.
She saved her best for the final games of the second, in which she pulled off an array stunning shots, including several searing backhands, to win the last 3 games while dropping just 3 points.
Burrage could face 2021 finalist Zhang Shuai in round two, after the No 4 seed from China faces a qualifier, Cristina Bucsa from Spain in her first round contest.
Comeback victories for Brits Katie Boulter, Eden Silva and Lily Miyazaki saw them come through qualifying into the main draw in Nottingham on Monday.
Boulter had to bring her A-game to rescue the match against Maddison Inglis, outlasting the Australian, 3-6 6-2 6-3, and she will hope to replicate her quarter-final appearance here in 2021.
Silva defeated fellow Brit Beth Grey, 5-7 7-5 6-2, to book a place in the first round, while Miyazki won 8 games in a row to see out a 3-6 6-2 6-0 win over No 2 seed Astra Sharma from Australia.
In addition to Raducanu, Boulter, Silva and Miyazaki will all be in action on Tuesday and can be followed live across BBC digital channels and Amazon Prime.
The only other match played on Monday saw Czech Tereza Martincova defeat Oceane Dodin from France, 7-6(1) 7-5.