Watson began 2012 on the verge of the top 100 but slipped back after failing to win a main tour match until Miami. There she beat two top-50 players, including the No27 seed Lucie Safarova, then reached the second round of the French Open and the third round at Wimbledon.
By the time the Olympics came around, she was ranked 67, only to draw Na Li in the first round of the US Open. She lost, slipped behind her chasing compatriot Robson, only to regroup with a vengeance when the tour headed east.
Clearly thriving on the hard courts of Asia, she pushed Maria Sharapova to three sets in the second round of Tokyo—having already beaten Sabine Lisicki—and ended her year with her first WTA title in Osaka. That took her into the top 50 for the first time.
Tracking her every step of the way has been teenager Robson, ranked 134 when she fell to Jelena Jankovic in the Australian Open and 95 when she lost to Francesca Schiavone in the first round of Wimbledon.
Robson bounced back inside the top 100 with her best finish up to that point, the semis in Palermo, but she hit the women’s tour between the eyes at the US Open. She was drawn against no fewer than three consecutive Grand Slam champions and beat two of them to notch up her best Grand Slam result, the fourth round.
For a few short weeks, she even overtook her friend and rival Watson by one place, at 74 and 75, and when Robson hit the Far East, she was also the first of the two to reach a WTA final, in Guangzhou. The gap widened, 60 to 71, but Osaka changed all that.
By the time Robson ended her season there in the quarters, she was at a new high of 53, but Watson won the Japanese tournament and moved back ahead by just three places—which was enough to break the top-50 barrier.
Already this year, both women have put in sterling performances to reach the third round of the Australian Open. Watson lost to No4 seed Agnieszka Radwanska while Robson, having beaten former Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, lost to the eventual semi-finalist, Sloane Stephens.
The reward for both Britons has been a further boost in their rankings, each up 10 places. Watson is now No40, while Robson stands at No43, the second-ranked teenager among 10 in the top 100.
And their achievements make them the first pair of British women to be ranked in the top 50 at the same time since 1987.
So where do they go from here?
Neither woman has many points to defend for the first half of the year, which means a few decent runs could have further impacts on their rankings.
Heather Watson is enjoying the kudos of a seeding in her latest tournament, located in the Thai beach resort of Pattaya City. In the 32-woman draw for this International event, she is seeded No8 behind the top seeds Ana Ivanovic, currently ranked 13, and Maria Kirilenko, ranked 15.
Watson went out in the first round here last year, but this year has already progressed to the second round after Hungary’s Timea Babos was forced to retire in the second set. Watson’s first seeded opponent is scheduled to be Sorana Cirstea, ranked 30 in the world, a woman who Watson has beaten in both their previous meetings—though the last in Auckland was Cirstea retired after losing the first set.
Again, Watson has few points to defend at the Premier in Doha so is heading straight to the Memphis international. There, too, she fell in the first round last year but, judging from the current entry list for 2013, Watson is one of the highest ranked players, so should do far better.
Robson is taking a different route but is also in the happy position that she can only gain points. In 2012, she earned just one point at each of Pattaya City, Doha and Indian Wells, and has opted to go in hard at the high-power $2,369,000 Premier in Doha. Unlike last year, where she fell in the first round of qualifying, she will be in the main draw, but the competition is as fierce as it gets—currently the entire top 10 women in the world.
The rewards, though, could be considerable. Indeed by March, it would be no surprise to see both Britons inside the top 40. And the next target, as they edge towards the upper 30s, would be their most valuable so far: a seeding at a Grand Slam.
In between Watson’s Pattaya City and Robson’s Doha there is Fed Cup action in Group 1 round-robins where the two are part of a GB squad that also includes No144, Anne Keothavong and No147 Johanna Konta—also up six places in the rankings this week.
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BIOGRAPHY: Cesc Fabregas