Miami Open 2015: Kerber holds off Watson comeback, as Bouchard falls

British No1 Heather Watson loses 7-5 3-6 6-4 to German Angelique Kerber at Miami Open

Marianne Bevis
By Marianne Bevis

Heather Watson, the top-ranked British woman standing close to a career-high of 41 this week, has not had things easy of late.

Last year started well enough as she made her way back from the debilitating glandular fever that struck in 2013. It had meant starting at the bottom again, playing qualifying rounds to make the main draws she had been getting as of right a year earlier. Take the French Open: three qualifying rounds, a win in Round 1, only to face the No4 seed Simona Halep in the second round.

In a season scattered with first-round exits, she made another run in Montreal, playing four matches before running into Victoria Azarenka in the third. She would not win another main-draw match until her second-round loss at the end of the year in Osaka.

Finally, the old Watson emerged at the start of 2015 with a second career title in Hobart that took her to a career-high No38—before another mini slump from the Australian Open until Indian Wells.

But in California, Watson again started to show her resilient, aggressive brand of tennis. With wins over Julia Goerges and then the No29 seed Camila Giorgi, she was already deeper into the prestigious BNP Paribas Open than ever before—only to have the misfortune to draw the very woman who beat her in Indian Wells last year, No7 seed Agnieszka Radwanska.

No matter: an unfazed Watson dismissed Radwanska, her first top-10 victory, for the first time to reach her first fourth-round of a Premier Mandatory.

However ill-fortune followed her to the other side of the States, to the hot, humid and draining Miami and the second Premier Mandatory in just over a week. Her opener was against a woman who had beaten Watson in both previous meetings, but this time, Watson came back from a 1-6 first set to take the match, 7-5 in the third.

Then, as is often the fate of unseeded players in big draws such as Miami’s, she faced another high-ranked woman, the formidable left-hander Angelique Kerber. The German, seeded 15, beat Watson in their only other meeting, at Wimbledon last year, but it took three sets to do so.

In Miami, fate would intervene again, unleashing a rain storm that washed out the day’s play after one set: Watson would head back to the locker room with time to ponder on her one-set deficit, and how she let slip a 5-3 lead and two set points.

But Watson settled the stronger when they resumed on an altogether brighter, fresher Saturday. She immediately broke to love, and followed that with an impressive hold to love. Then things became considerably less predictable on both sides.

Two games of multiple deuces and break points saw Watson broken and Kerber hold on by the skin of her teeth through five break points and deuces to level the score.

Next came a break apiece before Watson finally held onto serve to grab back the lead, 4-3. The Briton broke again and held to level the match, 6-3.

The final set would prove equally wayward, with Kerber taking a 3-0 lead. Watson dug in to hold the fourth game against the toughest odds, fending off six deuces and three break points, to get on the board, but despite have a break chance in the next game, she could not close the gap, and found herself broken, 1-5. Yet suddenly, she found her form again, and broke back not once but twice, and had only to hold serve to level the match.

Alas, a sequence of second serves gave Kerber the opening she needed for one final break and the match, 6-4.

The German now meets the No24 seed Svetlana Kuznetsova.

Three more second-round matches were on the schedule for Saturday aside from Watson’s. In the same quarter, No11 seed Sara Errani made the most trouble-free progress, despite playing the big and powerful Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. The petite Italian came through, 6-1, 7-5, in an hour and 40 minutes. She will next play the young, fast-rising Spanish woman, No21 seed Garbine Muguruza.

But the popular young Canadian, No5 seed Eugenie Bouchard, came under huge pressure right from the off against an unlikely German challenger, qualifier Tatjana Maria, ranked 113. Maria stormed through a 6-0 first set, winning two-thirds of the points, and facing down the only break point she faced. The second set was unpredictable in an entirely different fashion, both women breaking and being broken twice on their way to a tie-break.

Maria took a 6-3 lead and closed out a famous victory, at the second attempt, 7-6(4) in just over an hour and half.

Bouchard’s loss leaves an entire 12-woman section devoid of its scheduled four seeds, opening up the section for either teenager Belinda Bencic or 22-year-old Sloane Stephens to make their mark with run to the fourth round.

This remains, even so, a very tough half, with Serena Williams the last to seek her place in the third round at one end of the draw and Halep and a resurgent Azarenka, unseeded but dropping only six games in two matches so far, at the other end. In between are also Ana Ivanovic and Sabine Lisicki, who will play one another in a blockbuster third-round match.

Even before the third-round line-up was complete, however, some fourth-round places were decided. Caroline Wozniacki, the No4 seed, knew she would have a fight on her hands against the big-hitting Kaia Kanepi, and so it proved. The Dane struggled with the breezy conditions in a tournament that has eluded her despite an impressive hard-court career. In seven previous visits to Miami, Wozniacki’s best result was a semi run in 2012.

It would take her over two hours to fight back from a set down to take the win, 4-6, 6-1, 6-3. Not that it gets any easier for Wozniacki: She will next face either three-time former champion, Venus Williams or Sam Stosur.

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