INDIAN WELLS, USA – Heather Watson faces a tough ask when she opens her Indian Wells campaign against two-time champion Victoria Azarenka.
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Heather Watson v Victoria Azarenka [WC] | H2H: Azarenka leads 6-0
While the hard courts of Acapulco serve as a decent warm-up for the rest of the US hard court spring swing, Heather Watson‘s success in winning the doubles title sets up a tough ask in her Indian Wells opener.
Victoria Azarenka‘s comeback after the birth of her first child was keenly anticipated, but short lived. Making her comeback on the grass in Mallorca, and then four rounds at Wimbledon (including beating Watson in the third round) was her only moment in the sun.
A bitter custody battle with her son’s father has meant that she cannot leave the US with her son, and as such has been unable to participate in any tournaments since Wimbledon. Although the situation looks no nearer any kind of resolution, she can make a comeback here at Indian Wells, but no matter how much training you do off the court, it cannot make up for time spent getting match-sharp.
With such a commanding lead in the head to head over the Brit, it is a tough ask indeed for the Brit to snap a six-match losing streak, but there are some green shoots of hope. Watson might lack consistency, frustratingly at times, but in their Wimbledon encounter, Watson took her first set off Azarenka, forcing the two-time Slam winner to have to come back from a set down against the Brit.
Watson is also a lot more match-ready with her best run this year to reach the Hobart semi-final, having come through the qualifying rounds. She has yet to show that consistency this year since that season opener, having lacked any back to back wins aside from a decent showing at Fed Cup.
Azarenka’s strength is a consistent aggressive counter style, with one of the best returns on the tour with a solid backhand as a pretty effective weapon. In Watson, however, she will come up again a solid mover who has improved her aggressive play, but still has a natural sense of defence, and great footwork around the court.
For Watson, she will have to focus on the few areas of weakness Azarenka has – namely that lack of match play. Watson’s best chance will be to keep the Belarusian out on court for as long as possible, and to really focus on playing first strike tennis.
If she is going to get the win, we should prepare ourselves for a typical roller-coaster of a Watson match with a strong start, momentum tailing off in the second and then a tussle in the decider.
It feels, though, like too much of a tough ask for Watson as she looks to try and snap a four-match losing streak, and although the Brit has made it as far as the fourth round before now – this might be an early exit for Watson.
Prediction: Azarenka in three sets.
Watson and Azarenka are scheduled on Stadium 1, not before 8:30pm (Thursday 4:30am GMT).
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