This run has really come out of nowhere for Watson. Ranked as high as world no. 38 in January 2015 after winning her second WTA Tour career title in Hobart, Watson won her most recent WTA title in Monterrey in 2016 but spent much of 2017 ranked outside of the top 100 and although she started 2019 as the world no. 91, she rapidly slipped out of the top 100 again and has spent the remainder of the season there.
Before this week, Watson was 10-16 in WTA Tour-level matches and only one of those ten wins came in a main-draw match: At Wimbledon, where she beat Caty McNally to reach the second round. Otherwise her season has been spent in trying to qualify for WTA Tour events – which she managed successfully once in nine events attempted – and in playing at lower levels, winning the ITF $60k Fukuoka and $100k Vancouver titles and making the semifinal of the WTA 125k in New Haven.
Defeated by Magda Linette easily in qualifying for Beijing, there was no sign that Watson was about to go on a tear in Tianjin but that’s precisely what the world no. 125 has done, scoring her first win over a player ranked inside the top 25 in over two years when she beat Wang Qiang 6-3, 6-0 in the second round and going on to defeat Linette in a titanic three-set struggle to make the semifinals of a WTA Tour event for the first time since Hobart in January 2018.
Up against Veronika Kudermetova, who was playing her third WTA Tour semifinal of the season, Watson flourished again, taking advantage of poor serving from her opponent to race through the first set and closing out a 6-1, 6-4 victory in 75 minutes.
‘Yesterday [against Linette] was a really tough match and I think all those hours on court helped me play well today, so maybe it was a good thing,’ Watson said afterwards.
‘It’s my first time here in Tianjin, so it’s a great first experience for me. I’m looking forward to playing the final and hopefully I can play as well as I managed today.’
Watson has a 3-0 record in WTA Tour finals – can Rebecca Peterson find a way to hand the British player her first defeat in a title match?
Peterson already has a title under her belt for 2019, having won the Jiangxi Open in Nanchang a few weeks ago – funnily enough, she also beat Linette in a titanic three-set struggle in the quarterfinals, before going on to defeat Elena Rybakina in the final.
The Swede hit a career-high ranking of world no. 52 last October after a very solid season which included reaching the third round of the US Open, and has spent 2019 trying to consolidate her position on the WTA Tour proper, only playing two ITF events this season. Peterson’s done a good job; currently ranked world no. 59, she was almost back up to her career-high ranking earlier this month.
Peterson’s best result in the first half of the season was probably making a WTA Tour quarterfinal in Rabat but things have looked up in the second half: She got her first top-10 win over Sloane Stephens in Washington, made the third round of Cincinnati as a qualifier and won Nanchang before going on this week’s very good run in Tianjin.
Peterson started the week on a high by defeating Venus Williams in three sets and has not looked back, going on to defeat lucky loser Wang Xinyu, Acapulco champion Wang Yafan and finally coming back from a bagel first set to beat Ons Jabeur. All her matches in Tianjin, apart from the second-round encounter with Wang Xinyu in which her opponent retired, have gone the distance.
Jabeur is an incredibly testing player who makes it very difficult for her opponents to find any sort of rhythm, and playing her can be as mentally taxing as physically taxing.
‘At the end of the season, everyone feels that their body is sore and they are tired. I’m going to recover as well as I can and for sure I’ll be ready for tomorrow,’ Peterson said.
Peterson is also unbeaten in WTA Tour finals – but it’s a less impressive record in her case, given that she’s only actually played one (Nanchang).
What Peterson does have going for her coming into this one, apart from a much more consistent and successful season behind her, is the fact that she and Watson met for the first time just a few weeks ago – and it was a pretty straightforward victory for the Swede, who beat Watson 6-2, 6-2 in Wuhan. Watson is now on a tear, however, and the cold, slow conditions in Tianjin might be a better fit for the British player’s counterpunching game than for Peterson. I actually think Watson has a pretty good chance of winning the title, but certainly the match will go the distance in Tianjin on Sunday.
Watson vs Peterson Tianjin Open tennis is live from Tianjin on Sunday at 1.30pm local/6.30am BST
Watson vs Peterson tennis live streaming, preview and predictions – Can surprise package Watson stay unbeaten in WTA finals in Tianjin?
Rebecca Peterson beat Heather Watson just a few weeks ago – now they meet in a surprise final at the…
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