Heather Watson almost had a chance for an upset but came up short at the Nature Valley Open on Thursday evening. Johanna Konta handled the windy conditions and a stall to her game in the second set to come out winning 6-4, 7-6(5) on Centre Court at the Nottingham Tennis Centre.
This was the third meeting between the two popular British stars and while it comes early in the tournament, the battle for a spot in the quarterfinals would be rigorous. Their previous meeting at Indian Wells saw Konta barely holding off Watson in her straight sets win. Her strong opening round win over Kurumi Nara showed promise to the second half of the season with the hope of gaining another win over her fellow Brit.
Watson opened the match under windy conditions but kept her serve together making it difficult for Konta to counter for the break. She locked down her own serve getting the strengths of her game warmed up keeping the hold of serve together after two. They continued on that path until Konta pulled together a break in the fifth landing cross court body shots at Watson catching her late on the return. A push for a third straight win was difficult as she battled the wind which took away some control of the ball. After a few breaks, the 27-year-old got it done keeping the ball in just once to make it 4-2.
Watson stayed in touch with her first love service denying Konta any more ground to walk away. When she returned to serve out the eighth, the world number 22 put down four consecutive winners to blank Watson. The 26-year-old kept the set alive playing against the deep push from Konta to win on deuce.
With further life in the set, Watson’s coach Morgan Phillips came out to give her pointers on how to keep Konta from serving out the set. It was too much for her to handle as the wind helped speed up the serve of the 27-year-old who captured the set in 41 minutes. Konta served 65 percent from the first serve but scored 85 percent of points that made up for a dismal return game.
With the need to tighten up her side of offense, Watson delivered a good hold in the opening game of the second set. Konta followed suit with her winners continuing to rack up big numbers for herself. When it was time for her to serve, Watson wouldn’t let Konta get any of those in the game and instead held ground to contain her service. A key break in the fourth gave the 26-year-old a two-game span between herself and Konta as the wind began to pick up for the third time.
Despite the conditions, the Jersey native played through the fifth scoring winners that Konta didn’t act on. The concern for the world number 22 was apparent having dropped her third in a row. She stopped Watson’s winning ways getting the forehand back into the right gear. By the seventh, Konta earned a break that put her back in contention sitting a game down with the serve to tie it. She did just that with good answers in the rallies that put Watson in a tough spot. She somehow came out with a hold on deuce playing every point like they were her last coming ahead with a 5-4 lead and Konta eyeing the danger of playing a third set.
She scored a serve to love showing her interest to keep the match minimized but Watson also pulled together the same feat. It left Konta with only one out and on serve in the 12th, she held to force a tiebreak with Watson who was still determined to go the distance. Konta nailed down the first two points quickly before she erred on a volley. Watson gave her first serve point away but made good on the second firing a shot that didn’t come back well from Konta.
The 26-year-old leveled the score at three and then at four with each committing errors on the forehand. As they reached closer to the goal, every hit off the racket mattered and for Konta it meant two match points. She gave the first away on a ball long of the baseline before a final error from Watson ended her fight after 1 hour and 39 minutes.
“It was definitely not easy for either of us,” Konta said to Annabelle Croft after the match. “The conditions made it much harder as well.” “It’s never easy to play a compatriot so I tried to keep my focus on my side of the court and just really be competitive with myself and just do the best that I can and felt fortunate to come through with it.” She’ll hope for a better turnout to her quarterfinal match Friday against Dalila Jakupovic of Slovakia.