Jodie Burrage may have lost in the second round of the qualifying but she scored a Lucky Loser place in the main draw of the Abu Dhabi WTA Open, only to find herself facing compatriot Heather Watson in an unexpected Battle of the Brit encounter.
I’m very happy to get through that one. I’m not taking anything away from Jodie, I know what a great player she is but my level was way off today. I couldn’t find my serve, my forehand, backhand. I just didn’t feel good out there. But I thought I just fought really well and was able to scrap and just kept trying to the end and somehow got through it. Heather Watson
Played under the lights at the Zayed Sports City International Tennis Centre, it took 2 hours and 22 minutes to resolve the matter, with Watson eventually edging out Burrage, 4-6 6-2 7-5 to reach round 2.
It was a hard fought scrap of a match that Watson was happy to come through, while Burrage impressed on her WTA debut by building a set and a break lead against the British No 2.
“I’m very happy to get through that one,” Watson said after the match. “I’m not taking anything away from Jodie, I know what a great player she is but my level was way off today.
“I couldn’t find my serve, my forehand, backhand. I just didn’t feel good out there.
“But I thought I just fought really well and was able to scrap and just kept trying to the end and somehow got through it.”
There were missed opportunities by both, with Watson only able to covert 6 of the 14 break points she created, while Burrage made 4 out 10.
Burrage started strongly, winning 63% points off her first set in the first set, which helped her pocket it as Watson struggled with her form.
The tables were abruptly turned in the second, as Watson found her range and upped her delivery success percentage to 69% just as Burrage’s game took a dip.
Levelled at a set all, the match turned into a real scrap, with both players holding their serves while under threat from the other.
Watson fired 4 of her 7 aces of the match in the decider, which she ultimately rode out to victory, setting up a second round match with Russia’s Ekaterina Alexandrova in the second round.
After the tournament she will head to Melbourne to continue her Australian Open preparation.
Players are teamed up during the 14-day quarantine upon arrival in Melbourne and Watson revealed she will be training with fellow Brit Johanna Konta before mixing in with American teenager Amanda Anisimova and Petra Kvitova.
Earlier in Abu Dhabi, Coco Gauff’s season started with a bang as she thumped Norway’s Ulrikke Eikeri, 6-0 6-1, in the windy conditions.
“Honestly just me living in Florida, it’s super windy so I’m used to playing in weather like this,” Gauff said after the match.
“There was a lot of adjusting to the ball and just playing pretty aggressive, these courts are kind of fast so I knew if I got the first two balls pretty deep in the court the point would open up for me.
“She played really well. I know the score doesn’t look like it but it was a tricky match and a tricky player.
“She has really good hands and I think she hit a lot of volley winners, I’ve never been someone be able to drop-volley off some of the passes that I hit, they were pretty good and she just hit them like nothing.
“Yeah, she’s not the easiest player to play in the wind because it’s really tricky.”
Gauff will face Greek No 1 Maria Sakkari next in what promises to be an intriguing early battle in 2021.
“Honestly, I know this is playing two different opponents,” added Gauff.
“Today she hits the ball a bit more spinny and tomorrow, I know Sakkari hits the ball really hard, big serve and it’s just going to be whoever can take control of the point first.”
Top seed Sofia Kenin, the defending Australian Open in Melbourne, meanwhile, got her year off to a solid start, beating Chinese qualifier Yang Zhaoxuan, 7-6(4) 6-2, to set up a match with Belgium’s Kirsten Flipkens.
“I feel like it’s because of the lack of matches for me, that’s why I kind of went down a bit,” said Kenin.
“Of course, [Yang] played good. I’m overall happy with how I played, but overall I have to improve my game if I want to do well here.”
While Kenin and No 2 seed Elina Svitolina came through their opening matches safely, the No 8 and No 11 seeds, Marketa Vondrousova and Jennifer Brady, were dispatched in three sets by Su-WeiHsieh from Taipei and Slovenia’s Tamara Zidansek respectively.