Heather Watson saved three match points to overcome 4th seed Monica Niculescu of Romania in the second round of the WTA International in Hobart over two days after quite an extraordinary match, but was required to play a second match that lasted until 2 o’clock in the morning local time, with the Brit eventually losing out in another three marathon sets.
Watson was leading 3-1 in the final set against Niculescu when bad light stopped play yesterday, and the players were forced to continue this afternoon, the Romanian coming out stronger upon the restart and getting herself three match points on the Watson serve, before eventually succumbing in a final set tiebreak to the feisty Brit.
Watson found herself a break down early in the first set, and while she was able to recover it, she then squandered two set points and allowed the Romanian back in, eventually conceding the set on a tiebreak to 3, leaving her with all the work to do to save the match. Watson began well, though, levelling the match at 6-2 in the second set before an early break in the third gave her all the momentum.
However, when bad light ensured an overnight wait, the momentum was lost, and Niculescu came out strongly on the restart, creating three match points which Watson expertly saved, taking the match into a tiebreak and driving herself through to an agonising 6-7(3) 6-2 7-6(3) victory that was difficult to watch at times.
Watson didn’t have much of a break – she was back on court seemingly almost straight away against her quarter-final opponent Johanna Larsson of Sweden, who was better rested than the Brit. It looked promising to begin with, Watson taking the first set 6-3 against the Swede ranked just one place behind Watson in the WTA Rankings, but Larsson pulled things level after taking the second set 6-4.
Heather went a break down in the decider but pulled it back, and was serving at 4-5 when, at 30-30, she served what proved to be a fatal double fault, giving Larsson a match point – and it was the only one she needed, winning 3-6 6-4 6-4 and preventing Watson from defending the title she won here last year.
Watson will surely now enjoy the rest before the Australian Open next week – after so many three set matches here and at the Hopman Cup last week, she’ll definitely be match fit for the first Grand Slam of the year.