Two more successes for British tennis – this becoming something of a theme at Wimbledon this year. For Heather Watson, the current Britain No 1, there was a first-round win to celebrate and for Laura Robson, the woman Watson replaced at the top of the pecking order, there was a medical and psychological victory to cherish, despite a defeat on court.
Watson finally managed to push past Caroline Garcia 1-6, 6-3, 8-6, staving off match points to wrap up a third set that had been held over due to poor light from Monday evening. And anyone who saw her flap through the first set would never have believed it was possible.
Watson was listless and careless in the early evening on Monday. She had been hanging around for hours waiting for the chance to get on court and when she finally got there, there was no spark, no fire. She was as flat as a pancake. This, though, is Wimbledon and it is the tournament Watson loves best, so she did everything in her power to kick-start the adrenaline and get some sort of passion back in her game.
“I started the match very flat,” she said. “I’m not sure why. I warmed up great. I felt good before the match. But these things happen. I’m just glad I was able to get in in that second set, otherwise it could have been over before it even started.”
A couple of Hawk-Eye decisions helped buck her up – they went her way – and at last she was able to get into the match by winning that second set. But that is when the umpire called it a day. There was only about 25 minutes of daylight left and it was unlikely they would be able to finish the set. Best to stop at a set all.
Coming back yesterday, she made sure that she would not be caught flatfooted again. Bouncing on to the court, she was ready to go long before the umpire called “play” and as the talented Frenchwoman pushed her and pushed her, she hung on by her fingertips. When she found herself serving to stay in the match at 5-4 and facing match points against her, the nerves were at snapping point.
“I only thought for a second that it maybe wasn’t meant to be this time,” she said. “But I said, ‘No matter what, if she wants this match, she’s going a have to win it, I’m not going to give it to her’. I just stuck in there. Before I knew it, it was now my turn to close the match.
“I had quite a few chances leading up to that point to break in two of her service games. Then I was serving out the match. But it was tense. It was a first‑round match. I’m just pleased that I was able to correct my mistakes the second time, serving out the match. I made sure I made a few more first serves. I think that made the difference.”
Her reward is a match up with Daniela Hantuchova today on Court One, a match that her friend Robson may take a peek at. Robson has time on her hands after her 6-4, 6-4 loss to Evgeniya Rodina but she now has so much to look forward to.
After 18 months away from the game waiting for her left wrist to heal, she has put herself through a stern test and come out at the other end with no pain, no worries and, at times, with some impressive winners. There were also plenty of unforced errors but the very fact that she was giving as good as she got for spells was a sign that she is really on her way back. Just 10 days ago, she won just game in her first match back; yesterday she was in the thick of battle.
“Compared to the match I played last week, it was infinitely better,” Robson said happily. “There were so many positives from today that I can go back and work on. It was extremely exciting. I was extremely nervous before I went on. Every time I felt like I was getting ahead in the game or I had a breakpoint, it was like the last 17 months of nerves were just coming out and saying, ‘Hi’.
“It was a lot to take in. But it was so much better than last week. Last week on court, I was almost hyperventilating. This was infinitely better and it will continue to improve.”