Watson leads Brits in Eastbourne charge

By Ros Satar

  • Heather Watson once more heads the Brits in the Eastbourne main draw
  • Wildcards Johanna Konta, Naomi Broady and Harriet Dart draw tough openers

Heather Watson and a trio of British wildcards will fly the flag for Britain in Eastbourne from Monday as we preview the tournament.

Watson will hope to put a tough opener in Birmingham behind her as she opens her bid against Varvara Lepchenko. The American gave Victoria Azarenka a challenge in the opening round, pushing her to two tight sets.

The British No. 1 faced feisty qualifier Aleksandra Krunic in her opener in Birmingham, having had to withdraw from Nottingham the week before to continue to allow her elbow to recover.

In a tight match, she was edged out, but enjoyed a single round of doubles with World No. 3 Simona Halep, where the pair fought back from a set down to book a place in the second round, before Halep withdraw with a wrist injury.

Watson and Lepchenko have split their head to head, playing twice in 2013, but she might draw comfort from the fact that she has beaten her on the coast once before, that year in straight sets.

 Although Lepchenko has risen in the rankings just nine places above Watson, this could well be a winnable match for the Brit, to instill come confidence ahead of the Wimbledon draw.

The winner faces WTA Rising Star Elina Svitolina and onto Carla Suarez Navarro potentially in the third round. The Spaniard may have hoped for a better run in Birmingham herself, going out in rather lackluster form in the quarter-finals, but faring better in the doubles instead.

Watson is in the top quarter – which houses top seed Petra Kvitova, looking for some last minute practice ahead of defending her Wimbledon crown.

It is a tough first draw for the trio of wildcards. British No. 2 Konta returns to her home in Eastbourne, and was looking forward to playing in front the home crowd.

She said: “Playing at home is different to normal throughout the year but that doesn’t change how I prepare for my matches. I enjoy playing when there is an atmosphere out on court and it’s great to know the crowd is cheering for you.”

She starts against another WTA Rising Star Zarina Diyas who made it to the third round in Birmingham, with the prospect of fourth seed Ekaterina Makarova. The Russian is a one-time finalist on the coast but tends to get to around the quarter-finals stage on a regular basis. With the prospect of Garbine Muguruza in the third round, and possibly defending champion Madison Keys, it is another tough quarter for the Brit.

Naomi Broady may also fancy her chances of setting up a third round clash with Carla Suarez Navarro, seeing as she beat Sloane Stephens, her opening opponent, the first time they met in the qualifying rounds of Birmingham in 2011. Times have changed sure, but don’t forget that Broady scored a notable scalp of Ajla Tomljanovic in her first round in Birmingham before hanging tough but ultimately bowing out against top seed Simona Halep in the second round.

Rounding out the trio, Harriet Dart starts against the returning Dominika Cibulkova in a tough quarter that sets up a second round against third seed and last year’s Wimbledon semi-finalist Lucie Safarova.

Konta and Broady will be leading the way on Monday when the main draw starts.