Wozniacki outshines rising star

2013 AEGON International, Angelique Kerber, Ekaterina Makarova, Elena Baltacha, Elena Vesnina, Laura Robson, Maria Kirilenko, News

By Neil-Monticelli Harley-Rudd

Laura RobsonCaroline Wozniacki scored a 6-4 6-4 success in scorching Centre Court sunshine on Wednesday, outshining British teenager Heather Watson.

The former world no1 broke in the ninth game of the intriguing contest and never looked back, notching up a second victory over the 19-year-old in a matter of weeks.

Left hander Robson suffered a humiliating defeat at last month’s French Open, when her feet were like clay on the red soil. But the Australian-born youngest had learned her lessons from that hefty reversal so put up a decent fight against Wozniacki.

With both players possessing an attacking style of game suited to grass, and having each been crowned Junior Wimbledon Singles champions, the contest was always going to one of high quality and entertainment – not just because of the British interest.

The surprisingly quiet set of supporters were divided on who to cheer as the great Dane was a former champion at Devonshire Park and a regular popular figure, whilst Robson is the rising British star yet to shine on the big stay despite cracking the world’s top 50.

Wozniacki, the world no9 whose career nosedived following her well publicised romance with professional golfer Rory McIllroy, made a stuttering start but once ahead there was only one winner.

Wozniacki said: “I love it here and I love playing on grass. I’ve been here 10 years in a row now, including junior tournaments, and I really enjoy the homely feel to Eastbourne.

“Laura served really well today and she put a lot of pressure on me, which made it a really good match to watch.”

With the bit between her teeth Wozniacki eased into a 2-0 second set lead, only to face a temporary blip when the resilience of Robson overpowered her to break serve.

It appeared that Robson got stage fright and started to look jittery, unforced errors costing her dearly. And on match point Robson hit a return long to whimper out of the contest.

Wozniacki added: “It wasn’t a comfortable win. I felt that the crowd were supporting, which was nice because I have a soft spot for Eastbourne.

“I’m just tinkering a little bit with my racquet. I’m still under contract with Yonex, so we’re just trying to figure out a racquet that can help me a little bit more with my game. I just feel like I needed a little bit more power and the racket will help.”

Robson said: “I defended better than I did in Paris and got myself into a lot better positioning in the court.

“But it’s just a couple of shots here and there, and a couple of missed first serves on big that makes a big difference against a top player – it’s frustrating to miss easy shots.”

Two other British wildcards faltered to blonde Russians in three sets. Elena Baltacha put up a battling display on Court 2 to world no10 Maria Kirilenko but Heather Watson was second best to Elena Vesnina.

Baltacha grabbed the opening set off no6 seed Kirilenko but was ousted 4-6 6-4 6-3. Watson made a dreadful start against Vesnina but squared matters to force a third set only to fall apart and suffer a 6-1 3-6 6-2 reversal.

Another Russian, former Eastbourne champion Ekaterina Makarova caused a sensation by overturning German Angelique Kerber – last year’s runner-up – 6-3 6-4.

Gift-wrapped glory for Watson

2013 AEGON International, News, Players, Varvara Lepchenko

By Neil-Monticelli Harley-Rudd

Guernsey's Heather WatsonHeather Watson pulled off a sensational success on the sunny Centre Court with a straight set triumph over American Varvara Lepchenko.

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.

Watson in a Brit of bother

Players, WTA Players

By Neil-Monticelli Harley-Rudd

heather watson aegonHeather Watson’s grass court comeback stuttered at Birmingham’s AEGON Classic following a straight set defeat at the hands of Russian Alla Kudryavtseva on Tuesday.

The Guernsey girl will prepare for Wimbledon by competing at Eastbourne, although whether she will be granted a wildcard entry hangs in the balance.

Watson, the British no2, had returned to the WTA Tour – following a two month layoff due to glandular – with a stylish 6-4 7-6 opening round success over Hungarian Melanie Czink.

But facing world no172 Kudryavtseva was a step too far for the 21-year-old, bowing out in the 2nd Round 6-4 6-3 and having only registered two victories since February.

Yet Watson explained: “Winning motivates me for the future.”

Watson, seeded 14 in a low-key affair at Birmingham, showed glimpses of a temper that had never been on public display before by hitting the grass court with her racquet after losing the opening set.

And Kudryavtseva added to her woes by reeling off six games on the bounce to lead by a set and two breaks of serve to come closer to earning a hard fought victory.

Watson snatched her first break of the match to make it 4-2 before the Russian restored her two-break lead. But the Brit went out with a whimper, double faulting on the first match point to gift Kudryavtseva a 3rd Round berth.

Unless Watson can seriously up her game and show more hunger for winning points then her involvement at Devonshire Park’s AEGON International will be shortlived and Wimbledon will come too early for the former British no1.

Watson ends Brit interest in Paris

Laura Robson, WTA Players

heather-watsoneb2012Heather Watson became the last Brit to bow out of the 2013 French Open, and went one better than compatriots Elena Baltacha and Laura Robson by winning a set.

But the Guersney’s ace 6-4 2-6 6-4 defeat to Swiss star Stefanie Voegele in a rain delayed contest means that there are no British players in the 2nd Round at Roland Garros for the first time in six years.

But Watson, the British no2, was not too far away from being back to her best following a two-month layoff from the WTA Tour because of glandular fever.

The 21-year-old said: “I wanted more matches under my belt before Wimbledon, but I will just work from here and do stuff to get fit for the grass court season.

“I’m pleased with how I played, I was aggressive. There’s two main things for me, being ready for the next shot and getting ready.”

2012 Ladies Singles – Wednesday’s Results

Angelique Kerber, Ekaterina Makarova, Laura Robson, Lucie Safarova, Marion Bartoli, Results, Tamira Paszek, WTA Players

2012 AEGON International

2nd Round

Heather Watson lost 6-7 1-6 to Lucie Safarova

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova won 7-5 3-6 6-4 v Christina McHale

Angelique Kerber won 6-3 6-2 v Chanelle Scheepers

Laura Robson lost 4-6 5-7 to Ekaterina Makarova

Tsvetana Pironkova won 6-0 4-6 6-4 v Stephanie Dubois

Marion Bartoli won 6-2 6-2 v Aleksandra Wozniak

Tamira Paszek won 6-4 3-6 6-1 v Daniela Hantuchova

Petra Cetkovska lost 1-6 6-1 2-6 to Klara Zakopalova

Safarova survives scare

Lucie Safarova, WTA Players

Lucie SafarovaEB2012Lucie Safarova sent brave Brit Heather Watson packing 7-6 6-1 to book her quarter-final berth.

The Czech Republic ace was fortunate to take the tiebreak 7-5 after trailing 4-1, but once her nerves had settled she brushed aside the 20-year-old from Guernsey in the opening Centre Court contest.

Watson explained:

It was a tough match. I didn’t serve as well as I wanted to. I was getting frustrated with it, and after that first set being up in the tiebreak and it being so close.

“My game kind of fell and I lost focus a bit. Before I knew it, it was already 4-1 in the tiebreak, then Lucie stepped up her game and didn’t give me anything after that.

“But I have had another few matches on grass, and I feel like I’m going to peak next week. I’m going to leave here with confidence, I’m feeling very ready for Wimbledon.”

She started the second set by breaking but failed to capitalise on taking an early lead, let down by her mediocre serving skills. And Watson faded after the disappointment of allowing the first set to slip from her grasp, despite a tenacious display.

2012 Ladies Singles – Tuesday’s Results

Agnieszka Radwanska, Angelique Kerber, Caroline Wozniacki, Ekaterina Makarova, Elena Vesnina, Laura Robson, Lucie Safarova, Marion Bartoli, Petra Kvitova, Results, Sorana Cirstea, Su-Wei Hsieh, WTA Players

2012 AEGON International

1st Round

Jie Zheng lost to 3-6 6-4 3-6 Klara Zakopalova

Ekaterina Makarova won 7-5 6-4 v Petra Kvitova

Angelique Kerber won 3-6 6-0 7-5 v Elena Vesnina

Agnieszka Radwanska lost 2-6 4-6 to Tsvetana Pironkova

Su-Wei Hsieh lost 2-6 0-3 to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova

Christina McHale won 6-1 6-7 6-4 v Caroline Wozniacki

Laura Robson won 3-6 6-2 6-2 v Maria-Jose Martinez Sanchez

Timea Babos lost 6-3 3-6 6-7 to Lucie Safarova

Petra Cetkovska won 3-6 6-2 6-1 v Andrea Hlavackova

Marion Bartoli won 6-2 6-2 v Sorana Cirstea

Greta Arn lost 3-6 4-6 to Heather Watson

Stephanie Dubois won 6-4 6-4 v Carla Suarez Navarro

Watson’s appetite for success

WTA Players

HWatsonEB2012Heather Watson had few problems in dispatching Hungarian qualifier Greta Arn 6-3 6-4, to join fellow Brit Laura Robson in the 2nd Round.

The 20-year-old Guernsey ace was delighted to make progess on a day when many stars failed to shine.

Watson enthused:

“It’s been a brilliant day, me and Laura both won. I didn’t see any of her match, but she did really well to come through – that was a tough 1st Round win.

I’m also very pleased with myself to get through. I was quite nervous, because I saw it as a good opportunity for me and to get through the 1st Round.

I was pretty nervous throughout the whole match, I didn’t really loosen up but I got through it and played quite well.

For me it’s good to be a bit nervous as I’m more focused and very motivated to win the match – I like feeling nervous.

I find the more I play on this surface, the better I get and adapt my game. Always towards the later tournaments of the season I start playing my best.”

Kerber’s key to success

Agnieszka Radwanska, Angelique Kerber, Caroline Wozniacki, Ekaterina Makarova, Marion Bartoli, News, Petra Kvitova, WTA Players

AkerbersmallAgnieszka Radwanska of Poland (no1 seed), Wimbledon winner Petra Kvitova of Czech Republic (no2), ex-world no1 Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark (no3) and defending champion Marion Bartoli of France (no4) have no luxury of a bye during the 1st round at Eastbourne.

The ‘group of death’

Whenever you have last year’s SW19 Queen Kvitova and the highest seed after the top four slotted in the same quarter-final then you’ve got a ‘group of death’.

Kvitova gets Russian and former champion at Eastbourne winner Ekaterina Makarova, who pushed her to two tiebreaks last season at Devonshire Park on grass before falling.

German ace Angelique Kerber (no5) lays in the Czech’s path possibly during the 3rd Round.

Two qualifiers, another German, another Russian and Spaniard are also situated in this tricky section of the draw.

1st Round knockout

By no means is Kvitova safe but neither is (no3) Wozniacki, who now has her own underwear line so won’t want a pants performance against American Christina McHale.

McHale dismissed the great Dane in straight sets at Cincinnati last year, but Wozniacki got revenge in two sets when they met last summer. McHale comes right back at Wozniacki to try to go back ahead in the head-to-head series, attempting to shake off a rough loss in Birmingham last week.

Top three forecasts

  1. British sensation wildcard Heather Watson will win her first match against a qualifier.
  2. Bartoli, a two-hander on both wings, will beat her first two foes convincingly.
  3. Kerber will go the furthest of all the seeds in what I’m declaring to be one hell of a Wimbledon tune-up.

AEGON International final pick

Kerber to take crown from defending champion Bartoli.

Watson’s all clued up

News, Players, Roberta Vinci, Sara Errani, WTA Players

heather-watson off court 2012Heather Watson is set to return to Devonshire Park full of confidence, despite her three set defeat to Italian Roberta Vinci at Birmingham.

The 20-year-old Guernsey ace was ousted by grass court expert Vinci at the 3rd Round of the AEGON Classic 6-3 4-6 6-1.

Watson admitted: “It was tough one today because conditions were quite windy.

“But Roberta played really well, she is obviously a top 20 player for a reason.”

Vinci, the no4 seed and 2011 ‘s-Hertogenbosch champion of the pre-Wimbledon grass court tournament, dominated from the start.

But she slipped up in the second set due to a combination of gutsy play from Watson, keen home support and difficult weather conditions – before sealing success.

Vinci, who captured the 2012 French Open doubles crown with compatriot Sara Errani, said: “I like to play on grass. I play slices all the time, so it’s nice to play like this on grass.”

However, it was not all doom and gloom for Watson, who discovered after her defeat that she has qualified automatically for the main singles draw at the 2012 Wimbledon Championships.