Acapulco 2020: Heather Watson battles to fourth career title and back into top 50
It marks Watson’s first title and top-50 ranking since 2016
Heather Watson will return to the top 50 next week for the first time since 2016 after beating 17-year-old Leylah Fernandez in a gruelling three-set final at the Mexican Open in Acapulco, 6-4, 6-7(8), 6-1.
Watson’s last title also came in Mexico, where she won in Monterrey, but her latest victory caps a fine run of form for the Briton, who was ranked at 122 as recently as Wimbledon last July. There, she won just one match, her only win after three first-round losses on the grass of Nottingham, Birmingham and Eastbourne.
For much of 2019, Watson struggled to break out of main-tour qualifying rounds, instead making inroads on the Challenger and ITF circuit. She won in Vancouver and made the semis of New Haven, and with the move into the Asian swing, reached the final of the WTA Tianjin Open.
At the start of 2020, a semi-final finish via qualifying in Hobart took her back inside the top 100, and Acapulco will take her to 49.
Watson needed 10 championship points to claim the title after two and three-quarter hours, though she began well, breaking twice in the first set to take a 5-1 lead. After failing to serve it out at the first attempt, she did so for 6-4.
She led at the start of the second set, too, breaking to lead 2-1, and went 40-0 for a 3-1 lead. But the young Canadian began to find the kind of shot-making that had got her to the final without dropping a set—indeed only once was she taken beyond 6-4.
Fernandez broke back to level at 2-2, and held break points, set points, at 5-4 and 6-5, though Watson saved them to take it to a tie-break. And there, the Briton raced to a lead, 6-2, but the teenager pulled them back, and they edged to 8-8, with Watson failing again to convert a match point. She finally had to concede the set with a forehand error, 7-6(8).
However, the Briton regrouped strongly to open the third with a quick break, and consolidated it for 3-0. She broke again to love for 5-1, but had to resist one more attack from Fernandez in a long final game—saving break point in the process—before serving it out, 6-1.
Watson afterwards credited her young opponent with her remarkably mature performance:
“I’ve played Leylah two times before this, and I knew what to expect… The thing I notice about her the most is the head on her shoulders. She’s very, very mature for her age.
“I think it’s her mental toughness that really stands out. I think she’s going to have a great career ahead of her and rise up the rankings very quickly if she keeps playing like this.”
Certainly this week, the Canadian will enjoy a huge surge from a ranking of 190 to around 126, having made her first WTA quarter-final, semi-final, and final this week.
For Watson, though, this was a long-awaited and welcome return to the winner’s podium:
“I’m so happy to get my fourth title. It’s been a few years, so I’m just really, really happy I came through that match.”
Both Watson and Fernandez now head to Monterrey, where they are drawn against Tatjana Maria and Lauren Davis respectively.
GB’s top-ranked woman, Johanna Konta, is seeded No2 in the same tournament, and has been drawn against the former Major champion and No1, Kim Clijsters, in her opener.
The popular Belgian lines up just her second event after making her return from retirement in Dubai last week, where she put up an impressive performance against Garbine Muguruza.
It will be a tough test for Konta, who returned this season for the first time since the US Open as she rehabbed a knee injury. She has lost her opening matches in all three tournaments played so far this year.
Sabalenka beats Kvitova for Doha Premier title
Aryna Sabalenka has won her sixth career title to claim the Qatar Total Open in Doha, beating Petra Kvitova, 6-3, 6-3. It is the Belarusian’s third title in six months, having won in Wuhan and Zhuhai at the end of last year, as well as taking the US Open doubles title with Elise Mertens.