With three titles between them in Hobart, Heather Watson had to work extremely hard to earn another semi-final berth as she downed top seed Elise Mertens in an often rain-disrupted match. Watson started strongly breaking Mertens to build up a 3-0 lead, but the No. 1 seed had given up just three games on her way to the quarter-final and so broke back to get things back on serve.
The resulting tie-break was a battle for both of them with mini-breaks being traded before Mertens just started to get the edge, as she closed out the set for the lead.
The second set was a real test of resolve for both players with four straight breaks in the middle of te set and just as the momentum was starting to favour Watson, on-and-off rain delays made it a testing time, before she finally levelled the match.
The decider was a trying affair for both of them with breaks at every turn. Watson nudged ahead for the lead before Mertens had to call the trainer out. It did not phase the Brit who saved two break points to finally get a win over Mertens with over three and a half hours on court.
Talking to the Hobart International website, Watson said: “I was really glad I got through that. I thought that it was a big test for me against a top player, one that I’ve never beaten before.
“I think me just staying there every single point, fighting every point no matter how far down I was in the score, I just wanted to make sure I gave everything I had today, win or lose.”
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Up next is another player in very good form. The No. 3 seed Elena Rybakina made the final at the start of the year. Rybakina spoiled the home hopes in dispatching Australian wildcard Lizette Cabrera and Watson will have to brace herself for an attacking player who, if she is serving strongly, will look to dictate.
Watson has, over time, tried to develop more of an attacking game, but her strength has always been her ability to switch to a more defensive game, and she will have to find ways to disrupt Rybakina’s rhythm.
While Rybakina has already had a decent run this season, Watson has experience, and has been comfortable here, not to mention having played through qualifying rounds here too. However, for a first time meeting, expect some time to get to grips with her opponents game.
Prediction: Watson in three sets.
Watson and Rybakina are scheduled on Centre Court, not before 6pm (7am GMT).
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