SO MANY of the signs had been promising. No evidence of physical fatigue, not even after three sets and nearly two hours of effort. No hint of the glandular fever that had cost her two months of the season.
Alas, there was also no sign of a route into the second round of the French Open as Heather Watson was beaten 6-4, 2-6, 6-4 by Stefanie Voegele yesterday.
Britain’s No 2 played well enough – very well at times – but she could not maintain the pressure when she appeared to have the Swiss on the ropes. It was her first match in more than nine weeks and she was bound to be a little ring rusty but that did little to ease the disappointment.
Watson knew she could have won and she threw down her racket in disgust at the end of the match. An opportunity had gone begging and she knew it.
“I saw the draw,” she said. “I thought I had a good draw and a good chance to get through to the next round. I knew it was going to be tough my first match back but still I’m super disappointed I lost. I was finding it tough to string points together and focus every single point. My mind was kind of wandering certain times. I don’t think I started too well in the second set, was very tentative and defensive, but was able to step it up in the second. Just one break cost me in the third.”
Going into that third set, Watson seemed to have the match on her racket strings. She had fought back impressively to dominate the second set and was on a roll. And then Voegele took a tactical bathroom break. The five-minute delay was just enough to break Watson’s concentration and allow the Swiss to regroup, grab a break of serve and then hang on like a limpet until the end.
The bathroom break was perfectly within the rules but the timing of it had some of the traditionalists harrumphing at the side of the court. It smacked of gamesmanship. These same traditionalists, though, never uttered a peep when Andy Murray nipped off to the gents in the US Open final to give himself a pep talk and returned to wallop Novak Djokovic. To her credit, Watson was not ready to cause a fuss – she had been beaten fair and square. “Girls do it all the time,” she said. “It’s just the norm. Maybe she did need to go, but I should have been focused and ready for whatever.”
After such a long break from the weekly grind of the tour, it is the concentration and focus that Watson is lacking most – and the only cure for the problem is more matches. She has doubles and mixed doubles to keep her busy in Paris over the coming days and then it is home to Britain where the real work will start with the start of her grass court campaign. “I think there’s two main things for me,” she explained. “It’s being ready for the next shot and getting ready. I’ll just kind of hit a serve and just kind of stand there and expect it to come back to me. So that’s one thing. And also just focus, point in, point out, just the whole way through a match. I lost that a bit today.
“Today I was pleased with how I played in the second and third. I was aggressive. I was hitting it. I’ve just got to get better from there.”
And, even if the result was not to her liking, all the signs from yesterday’s performance indicate that it will not take Watson long to get back to her best.
Laura Robson’s miserable French Open was complete when she pulled out of the women’s doubles because of back pain. The 19-year-old won only five games on Monday in her first-round singles match against former world No 1 Caroline Wozniacki but had been due to compete in the doubles with American Lisa Raymond.
Meanwhile, a cacophony of noise on Chatrier Court signalled the belated appearance of Victoria Azarenka. The Belarusian, who had to wait until day four to play her first-round match against Russia’s Elena Vesnina because of Tuesday’s rain, found her clay feet with a 6-1, 6-4 win. The stadium was barely a third full as Azarenka went through her paces but the low decibel level from the seats was offset by grunts, howls and groans from the two players.
Polish hopes of a third-round meeting between the Radwanska sisters vanished after the fourth-seeded Agnieszka beat American Mallory Burdette 6-3, 6-2 but Urszula went out 6-3, 6-3 to German Dinah Pfizenmaier.