Daniela Hantuchova had been dismissed; Serena Williams lies in wait for her tomorrow. Heather Watson’s Wimbledon is warming up nicely.
Britain’s No 1 was in blistering form on the hottest day that Wimbledon has ever seen (it was up to 41 degrees at court level yesterday afternoon) as she breezed past Hantuchova 6-4, 6-2. The veteran Slovak was once the world No 3 but now, 12 years after her heyday, is down to No 72 in the world order. Even so, she is experienced, she knows her way around the courts of SW19 and Watson could not take her lightly.
From squeaking through her first round match against Caroline Garcia, three sets split over two days thanks to poor light on Monday evening, Watson was a different player entirely yesterday as she took 82 minutes to get the job done. The change in her from that first set against Garcia – then she was flat, uninspired and taking a hammering – to the way she grabbed yesterday’s match by the scruff of the neck was not only impressive, it also had the crowd, those sweaty souls peeling in the blistering heat, in raptures.
“I was very happy at the end,” she said, stating the obvious. “I wanted to smile, but my mouth was so dry, I couldn’t even open my mouth. I was just very pleased to get through that. I felt I did everything I wanted to do and needed to do and played how I wanted to play. I was just pleased with the result.
“I thought I played a lot better today. I hit the ball a lot harder. I was a lot more aggressive. Served well. That’s how I need to play if I want to win matches like that. Against somebody like Daniela, if I’m just going to make the ball, she’s going to put it away. Those are the matches I have to win and I can’t wait for them to be given to me.”
But now there is Williams to deal with. The all-powerful world No 1 is on course to complete the calendar Grand Slam this year and has been unstoppable in the major championships this season. Should she win the title here, she will complete the second “Serena Slam” of her career and would hold all four grand slam titles at once. And now Watson, the world No 59 is standing in her way.
“I’ve never played Serena before, so I’d love to play her,” Watson said. “But she’s obviously a very, very tough opponent. But I feel like in matches like that, you’ve got a lot to gain, so it’s a real positive as well to play her.
“She’s a great player. She’s an amazing athlete, a great champion. She’s always the one to watch. She’s always the favourite for every tournament she plays. She’s probably the toughest opponent.
“But I don’t just watch her. I watch most of the girls play. I really enjoy watching women’s tennis. I’m a bit of a geek. I study. I like to pick different parts of each of their games and try to incorporate into mine.”
One element that Watson had clearly taken from the Williams tennis manual was her ability to deal with a crisis.
There was one moment of doubt at the start of the match – three double faults that cost her a break of serve and saw her trail 3-1. It might have been enough to derail her, to make her fret and worry, but she refused to panic, broke straight back to set her off on a run of four consecutive games.
She was swift around the court, aggressive from the baseline and utterly unflappable in the heat.
Watson reached the third round in SW19 once before back in 2012. Suddenly catapulted into the Centre Court spotlight, she faced Agnieszka Radwanska – then the No 3 seed – and won just two games.
Overwhelmed by the moment, the opposition and the opportunity in front of her, she did not have the experience to cope. Three years on, she believes she will know what to do and when against Williams.
“I remember playing that match,” she said. “I wasn’t sure how to deal with it. I remember overplaying totally and thinking she was going to be this amazing player that I’m going to have no chance against. I tried to hit winners on the first ball. That was no good.
“This time around, this isn’t my first, second or third Wimbledon. I’ve been here a few times now. I’ve gotten a feel for playing the top players. At the end of the day everybody’s human. Everybody’s going to make mistakes. Everybody is going to have good days and bad days.”
It may be asking a lot to hope that Williams has a bad day but if Watson can play the way she played against Hantuchova, she is guaranteed a good day whatever the result.