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Has Heather Watson improved on the WTA tour?

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Originally published on 10/10/14

Britain waited 24 years for a female player to win an event on the main tour, and sadly it looks like they might have to wait a bit longer for the next one.

Watson was unable to reclaim her Japan Women's Open Tennis crown this week, bowing out in the second round to world No.122 Yulia Putintseva. The main talking point was not so much the fact she lost to a lowly-ranked player, but that she recorded her first win in two months in the first round.

Watson’s win over Jovana Jaksic, who is also outside the top 100, ended a barren run of five straight first-round defeats. Her last victory was a marathon three-hour upset of Australian Open finalist Dominika Cibulkova at the Rogers Cup in Toronto, which capped off an impressive summer for the Brit. Another top-20 win against Flavia Pennetta at Eastbourne was described by Watson as her “biggest ever,” and she looked to be making serene progress on the quest to reach the top level of the game.

Coming into the US Open seemingly on-form, it was a surprise to see her beaten so comprehensively by Sorana Cirstea in the first round. Confidence has evaporated as quickly as it returned, and losing to the likes of Putintseva and Nicole Gibbs does not fit the script of the British star.

However, there is no doubt that Watson has changed her game over the last year; she is more aggressive and looks to take charge of points rather than trying to outlast opponents in longer rallies.

“The new attacking style is down to me,” said Watson before Wimbledon. “I can move well and chase from the baseline, but I don’t want to play on the back foot all the time because it’s exhausting. Last year I was not as aggressive and my style of play was not a true reflection of my personality.”

This changed mentality saw her rise up from a misleading 119th in the world at the end of last year, to 46th currently. Watson reached a career high ranking of 39 in February last year, but is there something blocking her reaching the next level?

Watson has been able to enjoy the status of British No.1 since June with Laura Robson missing virtually the entire season, but comparisons between the two will always exist. Robson has the power to damage the top players but despite Watson’s more aggressive approach she struggles to find the ability to outhit high-class opponents.

It is too early to say Watson has reached her potential. At 22, there is plenty of time to break into the top 30 and possibly top 20. Dips of form are inevitable, and Watson’s loss of form since the summer is more concerning because of the fear she will slide down the rankings like she did last season.

However, she has not lost many ranking points since the summer and will have a chance to rest over the off-season as an established top 50 player. Perhaps next season she will push on and claim a second career title on the WTA.

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