HEATHER Watson remained upbeat despite another grand slam defeat at the hands of Agnieszka Radwanska yesterday – and claimed her improved showing against the Pole at the Australian Open was further demonstration of her development.
The 20-year-old was beaten 6-3, 6-1 by the fourth seed on Hisense Arena but the scoreline did not reflect the closeness of the last-32 encounter, particularly in the first set.
It was a far better performance from Watson than the rudderless 6-0, 6-2 thrashing she received from the same opponent in the third-round stage at Wimbledon last year.
“I felt I did a lot better this time and the score doesn’t really show how I felt out there,” she said. “I felt like I was in it and it was a lot closer. Last time I didn’t really know what I was going to do, but this time I had a gameplan.”
Watson, who saved three match points against Ksenia Pervak in the previous round, held her own for long swathes of the contest but simply ran into a player who had to much guile and variety. The Pole has now won all 12 of her matches in 2013 – a run which enabled her to claim the titles in Auckland and Sydney heading into the season’s opening major.
Even a second-set rain delay – during which the roof on Hisense Arena was closed – could not halt Radwanska’s progress as she advanced to a fourth-round clash with Ana Ivanovic, the winner of the all-Serbian tussle with Jelena Jankovic.
Despite her defeat, Watson can reflect with satisfaction on a good week Down Under. And she started well here, hitting back from 0-30 down to win the opening game. She even had chances to claim a 3-1 first-set lead but Radwanska repelled the danger – firstly with a wide serve and secondly when Watson sent a backhand long.
The world No 4 held and then broke twice to move 5-2 up and, although Watson got one of the breaks back, Radwanska responded again to take the first set. Watson, who is ranked No 50 in the world, may have been encouraged by Radwanska having to call the trainer to treat the little finger on her right hand but by then she had already wasted two chances to open the second set with a break.
A missed smash on the first was especially costly but there was nothing she could do but admire the audacity of the drop shot from Radwanska which saved the second.
By now going through her full repertoire, Radwanska was dominant. Watson got on the board in the sixth game but it merely delayed the inevitable as the title contender served it out.
In trying to find positives, Watson was pleased she was not overpowered. With big-hitting all the rage in the women’s game, Radwanska’s old-fashioned style – which is not dissimilar to Watson’s – has taken her into the top four of the world. Watson added: “I think it’s great that she’s got to the top playing such a different game.
“And it’s quite refreshing because lots of the girls just want to hit one or two shots, big serve, smack a return. It makes it more interesting to play and to watch somebody who builds a point and works a point.”
British hopes in the women’s draw now rest with Laura Robson, who enjoyed a stunning 11-9 final-set triumph over Petra Kvitova on Thursday. She was due to meet another rising star, American Sloane Stephens, overnight.