You have to take your chances when you get them, and with any luck Heather Watson will be able to take advantage of having served out her first-round match, eventually, before thunder, lightning and near biblical rain settled over the Porte d’Auteuil on Monday night.
While she too was nudging the nation’s press to perhaps take as much notice of winning streaks (well in fairness we did get quite giddy over Petra Kvitova’s winning streak on the dirt a couple of weeks ago), her opponents were having to face coming back for a half-set shoot-out, with 16th seed Elise Mertens 3-0 up on Varvara Lepchenko. The Belgian made short work of her opponent on the resumption, reeling off another three games to set up her second clash with Watson this year.
Watson had a great start to the year. She played through three qualifying rounds to reach the main draw of Brisbane and then actually won six straight matches (three qualifying rounds and wins up to the semi-final) in Hobart – which she won in 2015.
There of course she hit an in-form Mertens, who had impressed in the invitational Hopman Cup as her season opener. Her match against former World No. 1 Angelique Kerber was one of the best at the team event, and since then her form has been pretty impressive. She reached the semi-final of the Australian Open following the defence of her own Hobart title.
While the spring in the Middle East and in Indian Wells and Miami saw a little bit of a dip, since the start of the clay court season, the 16th seed has been marking her card. She won the rain-soaked Lugano title, a couple of Fed Cup wins, and followed all that up with the title in Rabat, before maybe coming unstuck in Madrid against Simona Halep in the semi-final (a 13 match winning streak!).
Mertens comes back refreshed after having to withdraw from her Madrid doubles with a GI illness, and after skipping Rome needed that fortitude to put paid to Lepchenko. Watson can expect a solid forehand that will push her all around the court and with very little weaknesses from the back of the court, we should see some pleasing variety.
Mertens is just as comfortable at the back of the court as she is coming forward at the net to finish points, so the kind of defence we saw Watson employ before she could inject a little more aggression against Dodin should come into play here too.
She said: “She’s a solid player, I’d say we have quite similar games. She’s consistent. good mover, sort of a counter puncher rather than a super-aggressive player. But yeah it will be a good match up.”
We have to concur – Watson’s strength has been her ability to mix things up and drop to a more defensive style, as we saw against Dodin, and then to step up for more attacking play when the opportunity arises.
She will need to do all that again, but she is coming into an encounter with one of the most in-form players in the dirt this year, and if the truth be told, this run of confidence dating back to Nurnberg for Watson might stand her better stead when she hits the grass, which is a surface she ought to excel on.
Prediction: Mertens in three sets.
Play continues at Roland Garros on Wednesday at 11am (10am BST).
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