Wimbledon 2022: Heather Watson reaches fourth round with steely win over Kaja Juvan


Emerging from the pain of plucky defeats and first-round exits, Heather Watson reached new ground with a victory over Kaja Juvan that was as impressive in its delivery as cathartic in its outcome. At the 43rd attempt, Watson has advanced to the fourth round of a grand slam, leaving the trail of disappointment and heartbreak behind to stride boldly into the second week of the Championships, where an open draw now teases the prospect of a sensational run.

In the end, a 7-6 (8-6) 6-2 scoreline may look comfortable but it masks the tension of a gripping first-set tiebreak which could have gone either way. Instead, Watson pushed through to seize the chance that in previous years she has slipped through her fingers. Although Watson was bold and assertive from the start, she was freed by the release of landing the all important first blow of the match. As the winners flowed from her forehand, she went on to take apart Juvan’s intimidating service game by sealing the straight-sets victory.

But it was not straightforward. As the finish line approached and the size of the task grew larger, a surging Juvan rediscovered her level and forced Watson to save multiple break points to serve it out in one hour and 43 minutes. “It wouldn’t be me if there wasn’t a bit of drama at the end,” Watson said and what a relief it must be to finally cross what has been a daunting hurdle.

For so long Watson has been the nearly girl of Wimbledon, epitomized by the third-round defeat to Serena Williams in 2015 when she served for the match at 5-4 in the deciding set. It was followed by another three-set defeat to Victoria Azarenka at the same stage two years later, and as the years passed it seemed the bravery of those performances but ultimately squandered opportunities would be her lasting legacy of her at the All England Club.

Time, it seemed, had moved on. Watson is 30 now, her ranking slipping to 121 in the world following a difficult two years in tennis’s pandemic era. Now Emma Raducanu is the face of the tournament and Katie Boulter, Harriet Dart and Jodie Burrage all arrived showing better form on the grass. There was a risk of Watson being left in the shadows but she could now be the last one left standing.

After playing the role of underdog against Williams and Azarenka in previous years, there would be no grand slam champion waiting this time. Instead, the 62 ranked Slovenian Juvan was her opponent of her in an open draw that, with it, brought the different pressures of expectation and opportunity.

At times in the past, it has been a burden that has weighed heavily on Watson but she took to her task with confidence. Although it was Juvan who took the opening break, Watson was playing well, with a mixture of lifted lobs, angled forehands and silky drop shots displaying her mood. Only two players in the third round had won a greater percentage of points on their first serve than Juvan but it was Watson who put the most pressure on the return game and she quickly broke back.

Match point brought an emotional release from Watson

(Getty Images)

Watson was not intimidated by the powerful and aggressive hitting from Juvan and chose to meet it shot for shot from the baseline. Juvan carried a big weapon on the forehand side but Watson responded with two clean winners to force the first set tiebreak. There, Juvan tightened and Watson appeared to be sailing through after guiding a backhand winner down the line, but the 21-year-old responded with two winners to save set points and when Watson could not put away chances at the net there was a danger that another golden opportunity would escape her.

Instead, Watson held her nerve. A tense exchange of heavy hitting at 6-6 in the tiebreak was won by Watson, as Juvan then crumbled with a double fault. It felt like a decisive moment and so it proved into the second, with Watson emboldened to hit cleanly for the lines and Juvan struggling to deal with the blows as she lost her accuracy and the errors mounted.

Watson raced to a 5-0 lead and was serving for the set in the blink of an eye, the promised land of the fourth round suddenly within reach. But the challenge of taking the final step was one fraught with tension. A double fault from Watson helped Juvan to break and the Slovenian threatened to pick up speed as she rediscovered the power of her lethal forehand. Juvan had further break points at 2-5 but Watson dug in on the lengthy deuce game, as a forehand long from Juvan brought up match point.

The backhand clipped onto the line from Watson was followed by the deftness of her backhand drop shot, and as Watson fell to her knees she kissed the grass that had been the scene of so many nearly-moments. The world No 97 Jule Niemeier awaits in the fourth round and, quite suddenly, a remarkable quarter-final is now within reach.

Maria Sakkari crashes out while Ons Jabeur continues dominant form

Elsewhere, Maria Sakkar suffered another third-round exit at Wimbledon after the No 5 seed crashed out 6-3 7-5 to the 34-year-old Tatjana Mariawho was playing in the main draw at Wimbledon for the first time since 2018. Maria, the world No 103, arrived at Wimbledon with her two children, who will now watch her mother play in the last 16 of a grand slam for the first time.

Maria will play the 2018 semi-finalist Jelena Ostapenko who recovered from a slow start to put away Irina-Camelia Begu 3-6 6-1 6-1. Sakkari’s exit means Ostapenko is the last seed standing in her quarter, with the Latvian now the favorite to reach the semi-finals.

Tatjana Maria celebrates winning against Maria Sakkari

(AFP via Getty Images)

On the other side Ons Jabeur continued her imposing form to dispatch Diane Perry 6-2 6-3 in 68 minutes and the player remains to beat in the bottom half of the draw. The World No 2 has barely spent more than three hours on court so far this week and will face elise mertens in the fourth round after the Belgian defeated the 2018 Wimbledon champion angelique kerber 6-4 7-5.

Jules Niemeierwho upset the No 2 seed Anett Kontaveit in the second round, defeated the Ukrainian player Lesia Tsurenko 6-4 3-6 6-3 to set up her fourth-round meeting with Britain’s Heather Watson.


www.independent.co.uk

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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