Road to recovery

Heather Watson has had her confidence rocked this year by an illness which had her contemplating a career outside of the game she so dearly loves.

Last Updated: 23/06/13 at 08:53 Post Comment

But you have to admire the way the girl from Guernsey just keeps bouncing back by showing real determination and spirit on and off the court.

Not many observers of the sport will be expecting too much from her at Wimbledon as she continues her road to recovery from glandular fever, which can be a potentially debilitating illness.

Things had been so different in February when everything was on track in Watson's life after reaching a career-high 39 in the world rankings.

Then, after suffering back-to-back defeats in Indian Wells and Miami in March, a blood test revealed the worst.

The illness meant Watson had to spend her time back at home in the Channel Islands, bed-ridden and with nothing to do but switch on the box to keep her mind away from what was going on in the tennis world.

"Yes, I was watching loads of TV. I was watching Eastenders, The Jonathan Ross Show, Britain's Got Talent, The Voice. In fact pretty much everything going, I was watching it," laughed Watson, who became the first Briton to win a WTA singles title since 1988 when she won the Japan Open last October.

"There wasn't much else I could do because I couldn't really get up and do anything."

No tennis

And when it came to tennis, the 21-year-old revealed she had to keep her eyes and ears firmly away from Sky Sports to help her recuperation.

"I definitely didn't watch any of the tennis," she admitted. "I wanted to, but it was nice to get away from it, so I kept away."

Since then, the British No 2 started a fitness programme which helped her take small steps back on her road to recovery.

And although she has been back in action for what will be coming up to eight weeks at the start of Wimbledon, concerns now grow over her erratic performances on court.

After only three weeks of practice, she returned to action at the French Open, but lost in three gruelling sets to Switzerland's Stefanie Voegele.

The result left Watson bitterly disappointed and downbeat despite playing well for large parts of the match.

"Yes, I was a bit frustrated, but then I got so much positive feedback from everybody saying how well I played after being out for so long and she played really well when I played against her," she said.

Vogel had beaten her two years previously during qualifying at Roland Garros and when asked if she had exacted her revenge, Watson replied with a smile: "I guess so - she got it."

When the grass-court season started, another face came back to haunt Watson at the WTA AEGON Classic in Edgbaston.

Russian qualifier Alla Kudryavtseva had knocked Watson out in her first ever match in Birmingham in 2010 and the world No 171 put Watson to the sword again by winning comfortably in straight sets.

The result left the young Briton confused after she had beaten Melinda Czink of Hungary so convincingly just a day before.

"I wasn't pleased with my game," said the right-hander. "Loose points, loose mistakes, not moving so well, not serving well and just giving it away really.

"I was very frustrated because I went from thinking that I've played well in my first match and thinking actually it's going to get better, but it was just a total opposite.

"It wasn't good and I tried to take some pace off my serve, get more in and that wasn't working. I tried to change a few things but I just felt a bit frustrated with myself.

"I felt (physically) fine. I just think feet-wise I was slow, slow to the ball and just slow in my thinking. I've got to get used to it.

"I need to find a way (to win games) even when I'm not playing so well.

"Every year I find out that it takes me a bit to get used to the grass, so I think with more training and more playing on it, I'll get more used to it."

Best result

The same thing happened at the AEGON International event at Eastbourne as Watson cruised past world No 27 Varvara Lepchenko in her opening match to record her best result since returning from illness.

"I put in a couple of good days practice here on the grass and I'm feeling very motivated to do well here," she said after her win.

However, she fell to Russia's Elena Vesnina the following day before denying that fitness issues were the cause of her defeat.

"It was a good day physically, just not so much mentally," said the former British No 1.

Despite the clear frustration Watson is still very excited at the prospect of playing at her favourite grand slam tournament.

"Yeah, I'm always excited for Wimbledon," she said. "I really enjoy playing there - it's probably my favourite tournament of the year."

Watson was sporting sparkling claret and silver coloured nail varnish on her fingernails.

And when asked if she will get in the tradition of things at SW19, she took a moment to ponder her answer before replying with a smile: "Yes, I think I'm going to go for green this year - for the grass."

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