Watson qualifies for main draw

Heather Watson was one of only six British players to make it through qualifying

Heather Watson was one of only six British players to make it through qualifying

First published in National Sport News © by

Heather Watson had a smile on her face and butterflies back in her stomach as she booked her place in the main draw of the Australian Open.

The 21-year-old from Guernsey defeated Irina Falconi of the USA 6-4 7-6 (7/1) and will meet 31st seed Daniela Hantuchova in the first round on Monday.

Watson had a nightmare season in 2013, battling glandular fever and winning only a handful of matches as she plummeted from 39 in the rankings to well outside the top 100.

Currently ranked 120th, Watson had to go through qualifying at a grand slam for the first time since the French Open in 2012.

She said: "Before the tournament I was very nervous, more than I usually am, but I was actually quite happy that I was nervous because I think last year I lost those butterflies.

"I've got it back now, I really want it, and I was pleased to get through that. It was a very tricky match, she's not your usual female player, she's got good hands and a lot of touch.

"I got a bit nervous closing it out but it's the last round of qualifying so there's a lot on that match.

"It would have been the end of the world if I didn't get through. I'm very happy that I am through but this is where it starts."

Following her comeback at the French Open last summer, Watson won only five tour-level matches in 14 tournaments.

She admitted she was going into matches almost expecting to lose.

"It's horrible saying that but it's kind of the truth," she said.

The turning point came right at the end of last season when she dropped down to the second-tier ITF circuit to play a tournament in Poitiers.

In the first round she faced American Christina McHale, a former top-30 player who had also been through glandular fever.

Watson won 2-6 7-5 6-4 and went on to reach the semi-finals.

She said: "Before the match I had no butterflies and I was thinking, 'Come on'. I went behind the building where nobody was there and I started shouting to myself and getting myself pumped up, and I think that really helped.

"It was a very difficult match, we'd had epic battles in the past and I hadn't beaten her before. To get through that gave me a lot of confidence. Then I got that winning feeling back, and winning keeps me happy.

"One of my friends said to me the match would be a test of who wants it more. And I thought to myself, 'Nobody wants it more than I do'. I'm not going to let somebody want it more than I do."

Her experiences last year have changed her mindset, while her partnership with new coach Diego Veronelli appears to be flourishing.

"I'm treating every match very differently to how I used to," she said. "I'm very grateful that I've got that next match and I feel like I'm more professional and taking it a lot more seriously. If I win a few matches, I don't take it for granted.

"And even if I am playing bad, I will do everything to find a way. Before I would get mad and maybe throw away a few points but not any more.

"This year I'm a lot more positive with what I'm doing, where I'm going, what I'm working on. I've got my new coach, which is going well, and I feel like I'm on the path now. I've got a clear vision in my mind."

It is still a long road back for Watson to where she was a year ago, and her ranking may well drop again despite qualifying given she reached the third round in Melbourne in 2013.

But she is determined to climb up the rankings as swiftly as possible and re-establish her position as one of the bright young things of the women's tour.

She said: "I think I am in a hurry and that's why I'm so motivated and taking every match so seriously. I've been there and I know I can get there. I can't wait to be back."

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