French Open 2018

French Open 2018: Heather Watson advances to second round

Great Britain's Heather Watson is through to the second round of the French Open in Paris

Heather Watson
Great Britain's Heather Watson Photo: Marianne Bevis

There have been lean pickings for British tennis fans in the women’s singles draw at Roland Garros this year, with just two making it into the main draw.

Johanna Konta, seeded 22, made her first-round exit, for the fourth year in a row at Roland Garros, on opening Sunday. That left Heather Watson as the standard bearer, where she was aiming to equal her best ever run in Paris, the second round.

It was an inauspicious start for the Briton against a young French woman backed by modest home support crowd on Court 3.

It was, after all, well after six in the evening and the weather forecast had promised storms for most of the afternoon. The sun had certainly disappeared, and the air was still heavy with moisture: How long would the women have for this late match? And could Heather Watson beat the 139-ranked 21-year-old Oceane Dodin in their first contest?

Not long ago, the answer would have been rather easier than now. Watson, a former top-40 player with three titles to her name, had suffered difficult times of late, among them a shoulder injury and abdominal strain.

Her last singles title came two years ago, and last year, she lost in the first round of tournaments eight times, and in qualifying five times.

This year, after a promising start to the year, and an apparent return of her confidence, she reached the semis in Hobart, but did not win another main-tour match until the clay of Nurnberg last week. There, she lost in the next round, to a qualifier, but she had broken that losing streak.

Last year, she had failed to get through qualifying at Roland Garros: What could she make of her chance against a lower-ranked woman in the main draw this time?

Yes, it was an inauspicious start, an immediate break at the fourth attempt by Dodin as Watson misfired. But the Briton soon found her range and rhythm, and her nimble footwork got her into position to break down the power coming from the 6ft French woman.

She broke down the focus of Dodin, too, who conceded one break, then another, to give Watson a confident lead, and the Briton served it out, 6-3, in a smart 34 minutes.

She did not back off, either, as Dodin’s error-count grew with the second set—22 by the time Watson had raced to a 3-0 lead with two quick breaks.

In 50 minutes, Watson led 5-0 and served for the match. She wavered, but only briefly, and fought off a last-minute surge of deuces and break points as the Frenchwoman began to swing freely and find winners down both wings.

In the end, it took 62 minutes, five match points, and some solid statistics, 18 winners to 14 unforced errors, to get the job done, and in the nick of time as the rain began to fall.

It also earned Watson a meeting with either No16 seed Elise Mertens or Varvara Lepchenko.

Watson’s was one of the few matches from the top quarter to be played on this opening Monday, but one of the seeds in this section, another Frenchwoman Kristina Mladenovic, No29, also made her exit to Andrea Petkovic, 7-6(10), 6-2.

Elsewhere, there were wins for Petra Kvitova, Caroline Wozniacki, Naomi Osaka, Carla Suarez Navarro, Daria Kasatkina, Madison Keys, Barbora Strycova, Magdalena Rybarikova, Belinda Bencic, and Coco Vandeweghe, but former world No1 Victoria Azarenka lost to Katerina Siniakova.

But then the covers came onto the terre battue as the rain finally arrived. Maria Sharapova would have to wait her turn.

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