Heather Watson is growing in confidence and stature as she reached the final of the Tianjin Open in China on Saturday, producing a composed and efficient performance to overcome World No 45 Veronika Kudermetova in straight sets.
It’s my first time here in Tianjin, so it’s a great first experience for me. I’m looking forward to playing the final and hopefully I can play as well as I managed today Heather Watson
It is her fourth career WTA Tour final, and the first since Monterrey 2016.
After spending just over 3 hours on court on Thursday, Watson made shorter work of her semi-final, dispatching Kudermetova, 6-1 6-4, in 74 minutes.
“Yesterday was a really tough match and I think all those hours on court helped me play well today, so maybe it was a good thing,” she explained.
“It’s my first time here in Tianjin, so it’s a great first experience for me. I’m looking forward to playing the final and hopefully I can play as well as I managed today.”
in Sunday’s final, Watson will face Sweden’s Rebecca Peterson.
After a disappointing run of form recently, Watson has found her form again in Tianjin.
She won an ITF title early in the year in Fukuoka, Japan that was followed by a series of early losses in WTA qualifying events and main draws, while success on her favourite surface, grass, was limited to a quarter-final showing at Surbiton.
After a poor showing in Toronto, where she lost to Iga Swiatek in the final round of qualifying, Watson rediscovered her form in Vancouver, where she claimed her second ITF title of the year, beating Sara Sorribes Tormo of Spain in the final.
A first round loser at the US Open in New York, she dropped back down to ITF level and made the semi-finals in New Haven but failed to make the main draw in either Wuhan or Beijing on the Asian swing, until now.
At the WTA International-level Tianjin Open, Watson dispatched Kateryna Bondarenko in the first round, and then hammered No 2 seed Wang Qiang, recently a quarter-finalist at the US Open, 6-3 6-0.
She came through a much sterner test in the quarter-finals against Magda Linette, the No 8 seed who had beaten her handily in the final round of qualifying at the China Open in Beijing, going the distance in an extremely tight match but holding her nerve in the vital moments to win, 7-5 6-7 7-6.
Unseeded Kudermetova had previously demolished 3rd seed Dayana Yastremska in the last 8 for the loss of only 3 games, but Watson showed no signs or fatigue against the fresher Russian, who had been on court for only 3 hours or so all week.
The opening set was utterly dominated by Watson, the World No 125, who was far the more secure player on serve and raced into the early lead.
Kudermetova, who was aiming for her first career final, improved in the second, but was unable to break her opponent’s impressive resilience.
Watson sent a warning to her opponent in the very first game as she secured a comfortable hold to 15, while the World No 45 struggled to get her serve going and was immediately broken.
With a first serve percentage of just 35% in the opener, she put pressure on her powerful groundstrokes.
Against Dayana Yastremska in her Friday quarter-final, the Russian’s length was immaculate, but she failed to find any accuracy and the opening set slipped away in just 25 minutes as Watson broke twice.
Both faced crisis in the early moments of the second set, although Kudermetova’s ability to save a couple of break points for the first time in the match helped her gain a foothold.
At last her big weapons did not desert her, with a thumping forehand securing the first before a barrage of heavy hitting allowed her to move into the net and thwart the second.
Watson’s problems, meanwhile, were of her own making as a couple of double faults dragged her back to deuce for the first time, but she solved the problem by landing key first serves in.
Maintaining the momentum from that hold, Watson broke through, returning positively and nailing an impressive backhand winner down the line to bring up 30-40.
Even with the advantage secured, Watson had to fend off a spirited effort from her rival, who fashioned her first break points of the match after 53 minutes.
The 27-year-old rediscovered her serve when 15-40 down, then showed admirable defensive skills to frustrate Kudermetova further.
Two big match point opportunities were passed up on the Kudermetova delivery, but Watson held her nerve on serve to set up a showdown with Rebecca Peterson.
Sweden’s World No 59 came from a set behind to oust Ons Jabeur in her semi-final, taking 2 hours and 9 minutes to see off the Tunisian, 0-6 6-4 7-5.
Jabeur, aiming for her second WTA Tour final, drew first blood, running away with the opening set, but Peterson rallied to take the second.
The World No 61 Jabeur took an early lead in the third but Peterson rallied, winning 6 of the last 8 games to move through to her second final of this Asian swing, having already won in Nanchang.
“Today was a really tough match,” the Swede admitted. “She played well, I couldn’t find my rhythm and I had to fight for every point, so I’m happy that I got the win in the end.”
The opening bagel did not reflect how tight an encounter this was, with all of the first 5 games going to deuce, but it was Jabeur who consistently found the answers.
Peterson rejected claims that it was the comparatively cold weather of around 19°C (67 °F) that had caused her to make such a sluggish start.
“I’m from Sweden, so the cold weather’s not something new for me. I felt like I was home!” she joked.
Certainly, she looked more comfortable once getting on the board at the start of the second set with a service hold to love.
Although the scoreline suggested that the second was a tighter set, many of the games were one-sided in favour of the server.
After 7 successive holds, though, Peterson snapped the trend by breaking for the first time, and while she was unable to serve out the set, she scored a second break to force the decider.
The players exchanged love games at the start of the third set before Jabeur broke at her second attempt.
Peterson squandered a couple of opportunities to hit immediately back, but did level in the 6th game.
From there, both players held serve and a final set tiebreak looked likely before Peterson raised her level decisively at the last, and is now looking forward to a second final of the year.
“At the end of the season, everyone feels that their body is sore and they are tired,” she said ahead of that meeting with Heather Watson.
“I’m going to recover as well as I can and for sure I’ll be ready for tomorrow.”