By Ros Satar

  • Heather Watson def. Nicole Gibbs 5-7 6-2 6-2
  • Faces 2009 champion Svetlana Kuznetsova – First meeting
  • Coco Vandeweghe def. Naomi Broady 6-4 3-6 6-3

PARIS, FRANCE – Heather Watson overcame rain delays, Olympic pressure and her doubles partner Nicole Gibbs to set up a second round clash with Svetlana Kuznetsova, at Roland Garros.

Britwatch Tennis: Full Draws and Schedules

Veterans of following the British No. 2 can often prepare themselves for a rollercoaster, and this was no different as Watson went from a 3-1 lead in the opening set to being edged in the first set. On a miserable first day in Roland Garros, the drizzling rain had Watson gradually unravelling as the conditions played on her mind. Gibbs took full advantage as the Brit struggled to hit through the court, especially as the balls got progressively heavier.

The first rain delay will have helped Watson, as she came out a lot more energised, and levelled the match, but as the rain started to fall on a dismal Monday, Watson again started to be more distracted, and down a break wasted no time in clearing the court on the final rain delay of the day.

Gibbs had broken Watson, and was serving for a 3-1 lead and Watson put her under immediate pressure, converting on her second break point to keep herself in contention. From there Watson went on a rout, as Gibbs tightened – losing her serve three times in a row.

Watson admitted in her on court interview that the conditions had affected her, but she has also admitted during the clay court season that the prospect of Olympic qualifying has been weighing heavily on her mind, after her win over Sara Errani in Rome earlier this month.

Any player in the Top 56 would be guaranteed a spot on the Olympic team and coming into this match, Watson was ranked 56, so a first round loss, while defending second round points from last year would have left her still in the balance.

So what does Watson have to do against veteran, and potential deep-run threat Kuznetsova? Living in Spain and very comfortable on clay has had a bit of a chequered season. She pulled out of her semi-final in Prague, and struggled against Stuttgart finalist Laura Siegemund in Madrid, but came back to some form in Rome. The conditions there are perhaps a little closer to the heavier clay in Paris, but perhaps the Russian was spent after her three set battle with Daria Gavrilova and capitulated to Serena Williams fairly comfortably in the quarter-final.

Kuznetsova has a lot more clay in her shows coming into this season’s conclusion on the dirt, but she also had to come from a set down in her opener, as she too came back on court to complete her first round.

The question is can she recover quickly to face the agile, and aggressive Watson? As an all-rounder, she too can cover the court well, with a solid topspin forehand in her armoury, and has some very deft touches at the net. We saw a lot of variety from Watson and she will need to bring all those tricks to bear, and try to outlast Kuznetsova, who can drag out a match with the best of them.

It is a tough ask, and Kuznetsova just has the edge even on this season’s match up, but Watson will make her work for it.

Prediction: Kuznetsova in three sets.

Coco Vandeweghe def. Naomi Broady 6-4 3-6 6-3

Broady put up a very spirited fight against Vandeweghe in a match where the momentum shifted like the wind blowing around the courts on a cold, but thankfully far dryer day in Paris. Broady was unrelenting, as she pushed ahead in the first set only to be broken straight back, and to hand over another, allowing the American to edge the first set.

Neither seemed willing to hang on to their serves in the second set, this time with the Brit nudging ahead to level the match, and she broke right at the start of the decider, but Vandeweghe started to wear her down, breaking Broady twice in quick succession.

Had Broady been able to come through a marathon game, where she failed to capitalise on three break points, with Vandeweghe serving out to love for a place in the second round.

 

Play continues in Paris at 11am (10am BST).

 

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