As though the organisers had stuck on a repeat of last year’s championships, Heather Watson is the last British woman still standing after a gnarled win over the gifted but erratic Caroline Garcia, the young Frenchwoman whose mental fragility continues to prevent her from making the most of a game which is so easy on the eye when it functions properly.
A Watson victory was an unlikely prospect when Garcia led by a set and a break on Monday evening, flooding her opponent with a stream of crisp forehand winners, and the British No1 was perilously close to joining Johanna Konta and Naomi Broady on the Wimbledon scrapheap.
It is testament to Watson’s sheer bloodymindedness she survived, lifting her level when all looked lost and transforming a one-sided contest into a fair fight, before returning on Tuesday afternoon after bad light had stopped play to beat the No32 seed 1-6, 6-3, 8-6.
Watson did it the hard way. As if it was not enough that the opening set lasted a faintly embarrassing 27 minutes, Watson had to save three match points in a decider that tested the blood pressure of everyone watching on Court 12, deal with a code violation for foul language and raise herself after allowing Garcia to break when she served for the match at 6-5. She will drag herself back on court today to face the experienced Slovakian and world No72, Daniela Hantuchova, who beat Watson in the Australian Open last year.
Playing for the third time in three days will be a stiff examination of Watson’s physical conditioning, although she will surely be fresh against Hantuchova after one of the biggest wins of her career.
Garcia must be mystified by her early exit. The 21-year-old, who was once tipped by Andy Murray to become the world No1, was a class above during a painful first set for Watson and she ought to have secured her place in the next round after breaking in the first game of the second set.
Watson was wounded and Garcia let her squirm out of her grasp.
Despite Garcia’s generosity, an area where Watson must improve is her unfortunate knack of starting matches slowly. She got away with it twice in Eastbourne last week, rousing herself from her early torpor to beat Varvara Lepchenko and Elina Svitolina, but Sloane Stephens had her number in the third round.
Maybe Watson feeds off anxiety, flat when the umpire barks “play”, able to tap dance her way out of trouble when she is standing on the edge of a cliff. Watson can throw a punch and if she can play with more aggression on a regular basis, she will move up the rankings. Her backhand stung Garcia. The third set was an almighty battle. After a few comfortable holds, the temperature rose when Watson squandered several break points, throwing away chances to lead 3-2 and 4-3.
Watson’s frustration boiled over after Garcia held in the seventh game of the set and she was given a point penalty by the umpire, meaning that her next service game began with her trailing 0-15. She was warned for racket abuse on Monday night and that one point in Garcia’s favour almost proved costly for Watson, who had to save two break points.
“She gave it to me for audible obscenity,” Watson said. “She didn’t like me, that’s for sure. I say things that I shouldn’t say. I apologise to anybody that’s offended. I need to control it, and I just can’t.”
Garcia attacked Watson’s second serve and she earned two match points when she was leading 5-4. She missed two forehands.
She had another match point; she missed another forehand. That was the difference: the winner count was 32-13 in Garcia’s favour but she also made 38 unforced errors to Watson’s 18.
Watson made the most of her reprieve after holding and she broke to lead 6-5 after a double-fault from Garcia. However Watson’s serve was also falling to pieces and Garcia immediately broke back.
“I was actually quite nervous,” Watson said. “Going to serve the first time, I don’t think I made a first serve to close that game out. She took advantage of that.”
There was a sharp intake of breath. Watson steeled herself and Garcia, riddled with self-doubt, lost her serve again.
Serving for the match for a second time, Watson led 40-0. There was a brief delay, a double-fault from Watson, but Garcia had pretty much seen enough by then and knocked a forehand return long to settle a perplexing match.
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