London: Britain’s Heather Watson reached the fourth round of a Grand Slam tournament for the first time in 43 attempts over 12 years on Friday as she beat Slovenia’s Kaja Juvan 7-6(6) 6-2 in front of a barely believing crowd on Wimbledon Court one.
Watson, 30, has slipped to 121st in the world rankings and fourth in Britain and although she has tasted notable success in doubles, she has never been able to sustain a challenge in singles at the top level, her best Wimbledon performances being reaching the third round three times.
Riding the wave
However, riding the wave a relative British success at Wimbledon this year she battled through a testing first set then blasted through the second, albeit via a nervous flutter, to reach the uncharted waters of the second week at a Grand Slam.
“Well, it wouldn’t be me if there wasn’t a bit of drama at the end,” Watson said. “Wow, what an atmosphere. There is nowhere I would rather make round four. I felt like she was playing her best tennis at the end, I wasn’t even that nervous but you guys got me over the line.”
Watson came in to the match on the back of playing on all four previous days, complaining about a lack of sleep as both her matches over-ran into second days.
She needed to find her focus quickly against an awkward and unusual opponent as she traded slices, drop-shots and lobs with 21-year-old, 60th-ranked Juvan, who had handed Watson her 10th straight first-round US Open defeat last year.
After a break each the first set went to a tiebreak, where confident returning created three set points for Watson. Juvan saved them all, only to hand the set to Watson with a double fault.
Energised, Watson blasted to a 5-0 lead in the second set, adding power and confidence to her groundstrokes, but Juvan starting swinging freely and, in combination with Watson tightening up, clawed back to 5-2.
The next game was a nail-biter as four times Juvan failed to convert a break point before Watson finally fashioned a first match point and took it in style with a sumptuous drop volley at full stretch to spark a massive roar from the crowd.
“It means everything, playing here at home in front of you guys, the atmosphere is everything,” Watson said. “Please can all of you come back for my fourth round next week.”
Watson will next play German Jule Niemeier, ranked 97th in the world.