Heather Watson targets Tokyo Olympics charge after ending 2019 on a high

Heather Watson ended her season in defeat but leaves China in positive mood after reaching a first WTA final since 2016, and she’s targeting a spot at the Olympic Games in Japan next summer.

Watson, who was beaten 6-4 6-4 by Sweden’s Rebecca Peterson in the final of the Tianjin Open on Sunday, will rise back inside the world’s top-100 when the rankings are next released on Monday and has guaranteed a spot in the main draw of the Australian Open to start next season.

She arrived in Tianjin with just one tour-level win to her name in 2019 but rediscovered her best form, with a ruthless 6-3 6-0 victory over world No. 22 Wang Qiang a particular highlight on her way to a first WTA Tour final since winning in Monterrey more than three years ago.

‘I was really happy with how this week has gone, I’ve got to say going into the week I didn’t think I’d get this far as I hadn’t had great results in Wuhan or Beijing,’ Watson told a small group of journalists by phone after her loss on Sunday.

‘I just took it match by match and I played in my second round against Wang some of the best tennis I’ve ever played. It’s been a great week for me, I’ve really enjoyed my time on court here.

‘I’m just in a really good place and I think that’s showing in my results. Even though I haven’t won as many matches at WTA level this year, I’ve still won a lot of matches in the back end of the year. Yeah, I hope it continues. I’m feeling really positive for next year.’

With Australian Open qualification in the bag, Watson will take a period of rest before heading to Florida for an intense pre-season training camp, convinced she has the right formula to make a fast start to next season.

She added: ‘Last year I was sort of chasing points to make main draw Australia and ended up not really doing myself any favours because I didn’t have a proper preparation for Australia last year so now I’m done, I’m going to have a proper off-season and then pre-season and yeah just really excited and motivated for 2020, mostly because of the Olympics because I really want to be involved in that again as I’ve been involved in London and Rio.

‘That’s a big goal of mine, that’s what I’m really focusing on at the moment.’

Heather Watson results in Tianjin

R1: 6-4 7-6 Bondarenko
R2: 6-3 6-0 Wang
QF: 7-5 6-7 7-6 Linette
SF: 6-1 6-4 Kudermetova
F: 4-6 4-6 Peterson

To qualify for singles, where she has lost in the second round in both Rio and London, she will need to improve her ranking – which will sit at world No. 88 next week – by just over 30 places to guarantee her spot. She could also realistically qualify for both women’s and mixed doubles.

If she maintains the form shown in Tianjin this week, she can easily boost her ranking, particularly given the distinct lack of points she has to defend before May. Her partnership with coach Rob Morgan – who she teamed up with at the start of the American hard court summer – seems to be in a good place.

She failed to add another 100 points to her tally by suffering defeat to Peterson and suggested a change in conditions may have harmed her chances.

In a rain-hit day in the north-eastern Chinese city, Watson the match was delayed by more than five hours before being forced indoors with a limited number of spectators – hardly a setting fit for a tournament final.

‘That [the delay] wasn’t the part that wasn’t great for me, I didn’t mind that actually,’ Watson continued.

‘I just felt for me personally I didn’t play well on the indoor court at all. It’s like the slowest court I’ve ever played on.

‘It’s obviously the same for both players. It’s not an excuse, I just didn’t play as well as I had been. It was a shame for the tournament it had to be moved indoors.’

Watson made 38 unforced errors in the match compared to 21 winners in the hour and 37 minutes long contest, and Peterson was the more steady of the two.

The Britisn No. 2 made strong starts in both sets, securing an early lead but her opponent hit back and was by and large the dominant force, with Watson setting up just one further break point chance outside of the two games in which she broke.

That said, most games were tight and it was an enouraging performance against a player who has been in good recent form.

Peterson, who will climb to a career-high world No. 44 when the WTA rankings are next released on Monday, has won two titles during her stay in China and counts Venus Williams among her recent victims.

In the trophy ceremony – a small affair which boasted a giant yellow bird holding a tennis racquet – Peterson said: ‘Congratulations to Heather on a great week. You’re playing great so just keep going. I had some great weeks here in China so trust me, I’ll be back.’

She has also recorded a win over the likes of former US Open champion Sloane Stephens and Watson’s compatriot Johanna Konta during the 2019 season.

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