By Neil-Monticelli Harley-Rudd
The gritty Guernsey girl recently slipped down from her mantle of British no1 to compatriot Laura Robson due to illness, but on the strength of this display she will soon return to the top spot.
But the biggest disappointment was that a barely half-filled Centre Court was able to witness the second coming of Watson, who battled for her gutsy 6-3 6-4 win in 84 minutes.
The delighted teenager admitted: “I don’t have a favourite surface but I enjoy playing on grass – especially when I win! The past couple of days I haven’t done too much with just a little practice, which paid off today.”
Wildcard Watson, who bowed out at Birmingham’s grass courts with a whimper, was back to her best as she took the match to her Uzbekistan-born opponent. The gamble of playing aggressively but from the back of the court paid dividends for Watson, racing away with the opening set.
But a more coy second set display by Watson appeared to be forcing a third set to decide the 1st Round winner. Lepchenko was in commanding form to edge ahead 4-3, but then lost her nerve.
Rather than Watson forcing errors, Lepchenko gifted her opponent victory with some charitable shots and fell apart over a torrid 14-minute period for the American.
Watson fought back to square the set by holding her serve without problem. Nervous-looking Lepchenko started to make uncharacteristic unforced errors to lift Watson’s hopes and surprise the quiet crowd who barely shouted their support for the Brit to serve out for glory.
With 80 minutes of an intriguing contest gone, Watson took just four minutes to seal success. She opened the game with a thunderous serve that Lepchenko could only get an edge to.
Lepchenko sent Watson the wrong way, who on her third return shot found the net for 15-all. But Watson’s trademark strong serve put her ahead again, the American hitting her return out and fuming with her silly error of shot.
But then Watson hit a double fault and on the next point her second return was way off target, meaning that she faced break point.
Watson’s success on the WTA circuit has been her ability to dig deep and continue to utilise her power at every opportunity. This tactic was used to great effect in the next point as she attacked the net and with her return thundered the ball at her opponent, who simply couldn’t control the ball.
A conservative four shot rally, played out from the back of the court by both players, ended with Lepchenko’s unforced error with a shot that rocketed behind the baseline.
Rather than compose herself, Watson was eager to get on with the game having earned match point without even applying any pressure.
A dreary 14 shot rally was tapped over the net by the competitors as though they were hitting the ball with frying pans rather than racquets, but it was yet another unforced error that handed Watson a confidence boosting victory – and hopefully the Centre Court will not be so quiet in terms of numbers or vocal support when Guernsey’s teenager returns for round two.