British No. 2, Heather Watson seeks her first tour-level final since March 2016 when she takes on Russia’s, Veronika Kudermetova in Tianjin on Saturday.
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Watson’s last final was in Monterrey in March 2016, when she defeated Kirsten Flipkens to claim her third WTA title. Since then, she has gone 0-3 in WTA semi-finals, falling to Caroline Wozniacki in Eastbourne in 2017, Elise Mertens in Hobart and Pauline Parmentier in Quebec City, both in 2018.
Watson possesses a career-high ranking of 38th, attained way back in 2015, but the 27-year-old has been drifting in and out of the top-100 in the last couple of seasons, and is currently down at 125th in the world, following a disappointing campaign so far.
Watson did not win a main draw match at any level in 2019 until May, when she went all the way to an ITF title in Fukuoka. She followed that up with quarter finals in Kurume and Surbiton, both ITF tournaments, but she struggled again on her return to the WTA Tour, losing consecutive matches in Nottingham, Birmingham and Eastbourne. She finally claimed her maiden tour-level win of the season at Wimbledon, beating Catherine McNally before losing to Anett Kontaveit in the second round.
Her WTA fortunes were not much better on the North American swing, as she lost to Saisai Zheng in the only main draw match she played, while she fell in the qualifying rounds in Toronto and the US Open. However, she had a more productive time at lower tier tournaments in North America, winning W100 meet in Vancouver, and making the semi-finals at the W125K tournament in New Haven.
Watson’s Asian swing started with qualifying defeats in Wuhan and Beijing, but she has finally put a run together in Tianjin, beating Kateryna Bondarenko, Qiang Wang, and Magda Linette to reach the semi-finals. Watson got through her first two matches in straight sets, but she was pushed all the way in the quarter finals against Linette, saving four match points before converting her own third match point to finish off an epic three-hour 7-5 6-7 7-6 victory.
The Brit will now attempt to reach her first final since 2016 when she plays Kudermetova on Saturday.
Kudermetova is seeking her maiden WTA final, as she attempts to add that milestone to what has already been her career best season.
The Czech began the season outside the world’s top 100, but she has since broken into the top-50, peaking at No. 42 on the rankings. Before the start of the 2019 season, Kudermetova had won just one tour-level match all through her career, but she has built up an impressive 24-18 record this year, making semi-finals in s-Hertogenbosch, Hiroshima and now, Tianjin.
She also made the quarter finals in Shenzhen, Lugano, Istanbul, and Nurnberg, while she reached the third round of the French Open. She also won a WTA 125K title in Guadalajara.
She has had a relatively smooth progress through the draw, beating Ajla Tomljanovic 6-4 6-2 in the first round, benefitting from a second round retirement from Saisai Zheng, who quit at 5-0 down in the second round, and out-hitting fellow rising star, Dayana Yastremska in the quarter finals on Friday.
“I tried to focus on every point and every game… I got a few lucky points but that’s how it is,” said Kudermetova”.
“I didn’t control the whole match. She tried to push me, I tried to push her. I tried to play more aggressively and I think that was key for the match”.
“Of course I want to win, but I’ll try to play match-by-match and win my first title.”
The next step in the quest for that first title is to take down Heather Watson and get into a first final. She has had a much better season than Watson, and arguably starts as favourite, but Watson has got the wealth of experience behind her, and will be buoyed by her narrow escape against Linette in the previous round.
Heather Watson vs Veronika Kudermetova is live from Tianjin on Saturday, 12 October from 12:30pm local time/ 5:30am BST