NOTTINGHAM, ENGLAND – It is a bumper day at the Nature Valley Open with four other Brits in main draw action, led by British No. 2 Heather Watson.
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Heather Watson vs Danielle Lao [Q] H2H: Watson leads 1-0
Heather Watsonhas a very important set of weeks ahead of her during the grass court swing as she prepares to defend huge semi-final ranking points in Eastbourne before the third Grand Slam of the season at Wimbledon. At this present time, Watson will just be worrying about her next tournament, her next opponent and taking it step by step as she returns to Nottingham on a surface she does enjoy to play on and her enthusiasm for this surface is why her results pick up on the grass.
Watson had had a rather concerning four months on the WTA tour, failing to win a single match in that time-span, losing ten matches in a row including the two losses she experienced at Fed Cup level. The win she claimed in Nurnberg against Kateryna Bondarenko actually freed the Brit up in her opening round of the French Open and she perhaps played one of her best matches in quite some time in defeating France’s Oceane Dodin.
Watson was left disappointed at some missed opportunities in her loss to Top-20 player Elise Mertens, where she had plenty of chances, but the couple of victories she has attained can really set her up for a more positive grass court season than she would have feared a couple of months ago.
The first round opponent for Watson is America’s Danielle Lao. Lao renowned for making her way into the professional game after a successful college career, but she does not have much pedigree on the grass courts. The American, who had only ever won two matches on grass coming into this week and those two wins came against two players positioned outside the World’s Top 200. The Lao backhand slice can be a bit of an underrated weapon of hers, but I do think that if Watson has the right frame of mind for this encounter that she can navigate her way through this match comfortably.
Prediction: Watson in two sets.
Katie Swan [Q] vs Mona Barthel H2H: First meeting
It has been a tournament of firsts for Great Britain’s Katie Swan. Over three years ago at the beginning of the 2015 season, Swan made the final of the Australian Open juniors final, which she later described as the most amazing experience, but now is starting to make an impact on the WTA tour as she qualified for her first main draw match in Nottingham. Swan’s first match of the main draw is against a dangerous, but inconsistent Mona Barthel. The German is a rather streaky player that can take the racquet out of her opponent’s hands, but also has some days where she is virtually not present on the tennis court. Swan has a serve and big forehand to really put her stamp on this match, but has to expect the unexpected when it comes to facing the German and ride through those high moments and pounce when Barthel dips in her standard of play.
Swan was struggling with a leg injury, which required a medical time out in her final round of qualifying, so hopefully it is something that does not hinder her progress too much during the week in Nottingham.
Prediction: Barthel in three sets
Boulter and Taylor both competing as main draw wildcards in Nottingham
Another exciting British prospect that features in the opening round of Nottingham is Gabriella Taylor, who faces defending champion Donna Vekic. Taylor is one of the Brits that has gathered a lot of momentum during the 2018 season, winning three titles at 25k level on the ITF circuit. Now it is time for Taylor to see how she adjusts to seeing the ball of a Top-50 player in Vekic, who can be quite overwhelming at times in terms of her power tennis from the baseline. Taylor has to use that confidence she has worked so hard to build in recent months and play with no fear in just her first ever WTA main draw match.
Prediction: Vekic in two sets
Another British player that along with Taylor is using a main draw wildcard is Katie Boulter, who will have a tough first rounder against former Grand Slam semi-finalist Yanina Wickmayer. Wickmayer is another player whose strong backhand side can serve her well on the quicker surfaces, but her forehand is a shot that can be broken down, especially when you take time away from that shot, and she is susceptible to delivering a number of double faults. Wickmayer may be a former Top-12 player in the world, but she is a long way away from those glory days as she sits outside the Top-100 in the world. Boulter should have her chances in this one.
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