Nobody thrashes Heather Watson twice. Well, not if Watson can possibly help it. She may be cheery, she may be charming but Watson is out for revenge – and Agnieszka Radwanska is in her sights.
Tomorrow Watson will take on the Pole for a place in the fourth round of the Australian Open, an appointment she made by beating Ksenia Pervak 4-6, 7-6, 6-2 yesterday. It took three hours, she had to save three matchpoints but Watson staggered over the finish line.
And her reward? That meeting with world No 4 Radwanska.
The last time they played each other was at Wimbledon when, in front of a home crowd, Watson froze and won just two games. It is a match she would rather forget but, nevertheless, it is one she hopes will spur her on when they meet again.
“That killed me,” Watson said. “I was so upset. I was playing at home in front of everyone and I just got wiped off the court. That wasn’t a great experience. It was just my nerves that got the better of me there. I didn’t play how I usually play. But I’m going to go in more prepared this time. I feel more experienced, I feel more confident in my game. This is my second time in the third round of a slam now, so I’ve been here. I’m just looking forward to playing her again.
“She’s consistent, got great feel, so it’s going to be another physical match. I think the first time I played her, I just went guns blazing. I didn’t know what to do and just went for way too much. This time I’m coming in a different player, and I’m going to approach it differently.”
Hopefully, Watson will approach it differently to her outing against Pervak, too. For the second match running, she made a sluggish start and it almost cost her. The blustery wind did not help her serve, while Pervak’s dogged persistence made every point long and painful. And when Watson missed a set point in the second set, it seemed as if the game was up.
“It was five-four and I had a few set points and I was just exhausted,” she said. “I think because I was tense throughout the match that I was just using up all my energy. In that game, I think that was the most exhausted I was during that match.”
But, when Kazakhstan’s Pervak, ranked 32 places below Watson at No 82 in the world, moved into a 6-3 lead in the tiebreak, Britain’s best perked up.
“I thought, you know what? She’s going to have to win it. I’m not going to give it away,” said Watson.
The players had already been on court for more than two hours and, after coming so close to victory and letting it slip away, Pervak was getting grumpy. She asked for a bathroom break and left the court for what seemed like an age – long enough for Watson to get her breath back and regroup. Come the third set, and despite the onset of cramp, Watson was in charge.
All the while, the crowd out on Court 8 kept cheering for and singing about their new heroine. Chants of “Heather Watson’s Barmy Army” rang out from the Poms in the stands and, once the match was over, Watson jumped into the throng to thank them for their support.
“They were awesome throughout the whole match,” she said. “It’s easy to support someone when they’re winning, but, when they’re losing, it’s not as easy. They were just non-stop from beginning to end and it was just unbelievable being out there. I told them ‘I couldn’t have done it without you’. I think they really helped today.”
With Watson safely into the third round, she can watch to see whether pal Laura Robson can join her. Robson takes on Petra Kvitova this morning – she should take to the court around 10.30am UK time – and, should she manage to beat the world No 8, it would be the first time that Britain had two women in the third round of a grand slam event since 1991. All those years ago, it was Jo Durie and Sara Gomer who were flying the flag at the US Open.
Chuffed that she is on the same bill as Roger Federer – the two form the night session at Melbourne Park – Robson is hoping she can rediscover the form that took her past both Kim Clijsters and Li Na at the US Open last September.
“I am just going to try to play my own game,” Robson said. “If I get sucked into defending all of her shots all of the time, then that is not going to work. I have got to stay aggressive and just play as well as I can. It is going to be really tough but I think it is easy to play on a big court with a big crowd when you have nothing to lose. It is enjoyable.”