British No 1 Heather Watson can crack the world’s top 20 if she continues her current rate of improvement, according to her doubles partner and Wimbledon semi-finalist Simona Halep.
Watson, currently 47th in the WTA rankings, arrives at the All England Club after a mixed first half of the year which has included some impressive wins – with a victory over then world No 8 Agnieszka Radwanska the pick of the bunch – but also a number of disappointing defeats.
A second-round loss to America’s Sloane Stephens at the French Open last month was less surprising but it ensured Watson missed out on any seeding at Wimbledon, and today she opens her campaign with a tough match against Caroline Garcia, the No 32 seed from France.
Her preparations appear to have been hampered, too, by a troublesome right elbow but the 23-year-old insisted the injury played little part in her first-round loss to 87-ranked Aleksandra Krunic in Birmingham.
The setback, however, left Watson relying on her doubles for further practice on grass, where she teamed up with Halep – who reached the Wimbledon last four 12 months ago and was full of praise for her British partner.
“I played against Heather once in the US Open, two years ago I think, and it was a tough match – about three hours,” Halep said. “She fights until the end and is hitting the ball [well] but not too strongly because she is my height.
“She is moving pretty well and she is improving a lot when you play her – she is a good player and she can be top 20 easily if she keeps going the way she is.”
Halep’s approval seems particularly relevant to Watson given the parallels between the pair. The Romanian is a year older than Watson but of similarly slight physique and two years ago she headed into Wimbledon ranked 32nd in the world, without having gone further than the third round of a grand slam.
More aggression, combined with her already consistent all-round game, has seen Halep climb to third in the rankings and reach three quarter-finals, a semi-final and a final in the last six major tournaments.
“She’s the sort of player Heather needs to be modelling herself on,” said former British No 1 Annabel Croft.
“She can look at somebody like Halep, who is a similar build to her and a similar ball striker.”