The Irish Mail on Sunday
Elena inspiring fit Heather back to her best
HEATHER WATSON is back playing her best tennis and using the memory of Elena Baltacha as an inspiration to maximise her potential.
After storming through her final qualifying round of the French Open with a 48-minute 6-1, 6-1 victory over Estonia’s Anett Kontaveit yesterday morning, Watson reflected on the loss of Baltacha, who was buried last Monday after losing her battle against liver cancer.
‘It’s so sad. You don’t really believe it that you’ll never see her again. Her funeral was on my birthday and lots of the girls sent me messages. Laura (Robson) was there, Judy (Murray) was there,’ said Watson, who was already in Paris. ‘I’m just using it as motivation that life is short, you don’t know when it’s going to be your last so just make the most of every day. I just can’t believe she’s not here any more.’
Watson is grateful that she is in a position to perform properly again after her career was badly stalled last year by glandular fever.
The contrast with a year ago is striking, as she has now won eight matches in a row, including taking the Prague Open title a week ago. Her reward for making the main draw is a match against Barbora Zahlavova Strycova of the Czech Republic, the world No 66, while her fellow qualifier James Ward got a very tough assignment, against Spanish 17th seed Tommy Robredo.
‘Twelve months ago I really wasn’t enjoying my tennis,’ said Watson. ‘I wasn’t feeling great. This was my first tournament back and I wasn’t ready. It went into a downward spiral of not winning matches and losing confidence and I learned a lot from that.
‘For example, I got injured again this year with my ribs and I really wanted to play Estoril, it’s one of my favourite tournaments of the year. I thought to myself, “You know what, I’m not ready” and I thought I’d give myself that extra week, because coming back too soon is not the right decision. If I lose one week it will be better than losing months.
‘Now I’m playing the best tennis of my career and I’m loving it. I’m not getting tired. I’ve played so many matches in a row and I’m taking nothing for granted. I’m just really enjoying it.’
Watson has changed her playing philosophy in consultation with her new coach, Argentine Diego Veronelli. She said: ‘Before, even when I reached my highest ranking, I was a kind of counter-puncher on important points. I’d wait for my opponent to miss or hope for her to miss. Now as soon as I see a short ball I want to win the point.’