US Open 2011: Maria Sharapova battles to overcome Heather Watson

US Open 2011: Maria Sharapova battles to overcome Heather Watson 

designer handbagsThe wholly encouraging aspect of Heather Watson’s heroics against Maria Sharapova in the first round of the US Open was her belief in defeat that she is worth her place in this company. Here was a British loser buoyed by the prospect of the challenge in front of her, not merely sated by the tantalising scent of near-victory that she had just experienced.

Overawed neither by her surroundings nor by her opponent, the Guernsey teenager turned in the finest performance of her career before succumbing to the power and desperation of the Russian after two hours and 34 minutes of high-class slugging. Watson, ranked 102 in the world, came within a few games of pulling off one of the major sporting upsets of recent times as she traded ground strokes with the most glamorous bully in tennis.

Sharapova, No3 in the world and a winner here in 2006 when Watson was still dreaming of a career as a professional, had to draw on her considerable reserves of bloodymindedness to win 3-6, 7-5, 6-3.

tote bags« I had a lot of fun today, » said Watson, unable to stop the grin that illuminated her wide-eyed, youthful features. « It’s what I want to do. I want to be out there on the big courts playing the top players. It was a really great match, very competitive. We played some really great tennis. »

Rarely has the Russian shrieked so loudly. Rarely has the prospect of defeat been etched so deeply on her fine features. Watson, all the while, remained calm and determined and lost not through any shortcomings of her own but through the class and courage of her opponent.

The match, in front of an enthralled audience on Arthur Ashe Court who were mainly pulling for Watson, followed Laura Robson’s retirement win over Japan’s Ayumi Morita, 7-6, 1-0, to advance to round two of a grand-slam event for the second time. This was Watson’s day, though. Losing would have sent Sharapova into an emotional heap, so intense was the commitment of both players. They had played 150 grand-slam matches between them; it was Watson’s fifth.

« There’s no doubt she’s a great up-and-coming player, » a clearly relieved Sharapova said later. « She played really smart in the first set and I made too many errors. »

Watson, with her mother watching and trying hard to contain her excitement, shocked the tournament and the steadily gathering crowd by taking the first set.

Sharapova looked to have quelled the revolt in the second but Watson showed enormous grit to fight back from 4-1 down. It was a similar story in the third as Sharapova went into a 3-0 lead before Watson surprised her again. The challenge was too much for her in the end but she left the court a loser garlanded in the unanimous, warm appreciation of the crowd.

How close did she think she came to pulling off what almost universally was regarded as the impossible?

« I had my chances in the second set, » Watson said. « You have to create the opportunity but also execute and I was probably a bit too defensive on those important points. But I always believed I could win. There’s no point in my going out there if I don’t believe that I can win.

« I wanted to give it everything and leave everything out there on the court. I wanted to make every ball, make her play every ball and just fight because Maria’s a fighter. She’s never going to give up.

« That’s what makes her a champion. That’s why she’s won this tournament before. She’s won grand slams and been No1 in the world, so I’m going to have to go out there and compete and give it my all.

« I absolutely loved the atmosphere today. I thought everyone was going to be supporting Maria – she’s won here before, she’s been No1 in the world, she’s No4 right now.

« But I had a lot of support. I heard some people calling me Cinderella, all sorts of stuff. And, when they were chanting my name I kind of got the goose bumps. I thought, ‘Stay calm, focus on the match.’ »

And that she did. As remarkable as her considered view of her place in the game and what she has yet to do to go further was her ice-cool nerve.

« The night before I had 12½ hours’ sleep. I thought I wasn’t going to be able to sleep last night but I did. I got in another nine hours. I wasn’t actually nervous at all throughout the match, a few points here and there. But the first game when I was 40-love up, I missed a few. You could tell because they just kind of fly. »

crossbody bags Plenty more flew where they were intended. It was as rousing and heartwarming a performance in defeat as a British player has produced in many years.



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