Heather Watson was defeated on Sunday in the final of China’s Tianjin Open, but this was still a huge week for the British No 2. She gained almost 40 places on the rankings ladder, climbing to No88, which should earn her direct entry into the Australian Open.
While Johanna Konta has led the British challenge this season, clocking up 40 wins to date, Watson had made almost no impact at tour level before arriving in Tianjin. Along with seven first-round exits, her only victory had come against 17-year-old American Caty McNally in front of a supportive crowd at Wimbledon.
But as Watson explained after yesterday’s 6-4, 6-4 defeat at the hands of Sweden’s Rebecca Peterson, her form finally came together in last week’s second-round match against Qiang Wang – the world No 22 and top seed in Tianjin.
“That was some of the best tennis I’ve ever played,” said Watson of her 6-3, 6-0 upset win over Wang. “I didn’t think I’d get this far as I hadn’t had great results in Wuhan or Beijing, but it’s been a great week for me. I’m just in a really good place and I think that’s showing in my results.”
Watson said she will not play again this season after the final, which was held back for five hours by rain before eventually being moved indoors. Even then, another delay resulted from water pouring through a hole in the roof.
“It was like the slowest court I’ve ever played on,” she said, when asked about the back-up venue. “It’s a shame for the tournament, and I didn’t play well at all, but it’s the same for both players and it’s not an excuse.”
In 2020, Watson will be chasing a challenging but attainable target: a place in the world’s top 56 by the end of the French Open. Should she manage that, she will go to Toyko to take part in her third Olympic Games.
“That’s what I’m really focusing on at the moment,” she said. “Last year I was chasing points to make it into the main draw of the Australian Open [the year’s first grand-slam event]. Whereas now I’m going to have a proper off-season and then pre-season in Florida. I really want to be involved in the Olympics again as I’ve been involved in London and Rio.”
Meanwhile Kyle Edmund’s slump continued with a seventh consecutive loss, this time against world No 119 Norbert Gombos, in the qualifying event at Antwerp. Having won the title in Antwerp last season, this was another demoralising result which will cost Edmund 250 rankings points and send him sliding outside the top 70.
As for Konta, she will not return to the tour as planned in Moscow this week, as she continues to be bothered by the knee issue that has sidelined her since the US Open. And Coco Gauff, the 15-year-old American prodigy, claimed her first WTA title when she beat the former French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko in Linz.