Making her return to the tour since losing the second round decider at the Australian Open, Heather Watson saw off a match-sharper Bethanie Mattek-Sands in her opening round. Watson leapt out to a 3-0 lead before giving up that advantage as the doubles-specialist won the next four games on the bounce.
With Watson breaking for a chance to serve out the for the set, she squandered three set points as Mattek-Sands converted on her break-point to level once more. Watson hit back straight away to regain her advantage, finally sealing a tight first set on her fifth set point.
She started the second set with an immediate break, as the pair fought some tight battles in the next few games, before Watson stepped up a gear to close out the match with a break, on a single match point.
It might have been a while since she was in tour action, but Watson was a pivotal part of the Fed Cup time that now has a shot at making the World Group, winning all her singles rubbers. She will need that kind of confidence, together with having weathered a tough opener to tackle an in-form Kristina Mladenovic.
The Frenchwoman might have started the year a little sluggishly, only picking up wins on her way to the St. Petersburg title but a couple of wins in Dubai, and a pretty convincing performance against Varvara Lepchenko sets her up as the obvious favourite going into the match.
While their head to head is quite close, Watson’s wins came as far back as 2011 in the lower tiers of competition and in qualifying for the Australian Open. A lot has happened for both since then, with Mladenovic having taken the honours in their last tour meeting.
The Frenchwoman can often stand up to top players and give them pause for thought, but at times have lacked the consistency across all levels of the tour. She hits the ball well, with a solid enough first serve to back up her groundstrokes, but she can be attackable on her second serve. She can also be a little vulnerable to players who can move around the court with a little more nimbleness, but her doubles expertise can also turn the tide for her.
Watson will need to tighten up the double-faults when she is really trying to go for her serve, but her movement may well just edge Mladenovic and if she can keep her on the move, she could keep her out there for a fair while.
Prediction: Mladenovic in three sets.
Watson and Mladenovic should be scheduled to play on Wednesday.
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