Heather Watson through to the fourth round in a grand slam for the first time

Emerging from the pain of courageous defeats and first-round outs, Heather Watson reached new ground with a win over Kaja Juvan that was as impressive in its delivery as it was cathartic in its result. On the 43rd attempt, Watson advanced to the fourth round of a grand slam, leaving the trail of disappointment and heartbreak behind to boldly advance into week two of the Championship, where an open draw now sparks the prospect of a sensational race.

In the end, a score of 7-6 and 6-2 might look comfortable, but it masks the tension of a thrilling first-set tiebreak that could have gone either way. Instead, Watson struggled to seize the chance that in previous years had slipped through his fingers. Although Watson was bold and assertive from the start, she was freed by the throw to land the first major blow of the match. As winners flowed from her forehand, she proceeded to dismantle Juvan’s intimidating serve game, sealing the win in straight sets.

But it wasn’t straight. As the finish line approached and the size of the task grew, Juvan rediscovered his level and forced Watson to save multiple breakpoints to complete it in an hour and 43 minutes. “It wouldn’t be me if there wasn’t a little drama at the end,” Watson said and what a relief it must be to finally cross what has been a daunting hurdle.

Watson has long been the Wimbledon near-girl, epitomized by her third-round loss to Serena Williams in 2015, when she served for the match 5-4 in the deciding set. It was followed by another three-set loss to Victoria Azarenka on the same stage two years later, and as the years went by it seemed that the bravery of those performances but missed opportunities would be their enduring legacy at the All England Club.

Time, it seemed, had passed. Watson is 30 years old now, his ranking has dropped to 121 in the world after two difficult years in the tennis pandemic era. Now Emma Raducanu is the face of the tournament and Katie Boulter, Harriet Dart and Jodie Burrage have arrived showing better form on the grass. There was a risk that Watson would remain in the shadows, but now she could be the last survivor.

After playing the underdog role against Williams and Azarenka in previous years, there would be no Grand Slam champion waiting this time around. Instead, the Slovenian Juvan, 62nd, was his opponent in an open draw that, with him, brought the different pressures of expectation and opportunity.

At times in the past it was a burden that weighed heavily on Watson, but she took on her task with confidence. Although it was Juvan who made the opening break, Watson was playing well, with a mix of raised lobs, angled forehands and silky drop shots showing his mood. Only two players in the third round gained a higher percentage of points on the first serve than Juvan, but it was Watson who pushed harder in the return game and she quickly backed off.

Match point brought an emotional release from Watson

(Getty Images)

Watson was undaunted by Juvan’s powerful and aggressive punch and opted to take him shot for shot from the bottom line. Juvan carried a big gun on the forehand side, but Watson responded with two clean wins to force the first set tiebreak. There Juvan squeezed and Watson appeared to be sailing after guiding a backhand winner down the line, but the 21-year-old responded with two winners to save points and when Watson failed to squander chances at the net, there was a danger that another golden opportunity would escape her.

Instead, Watson remained calm. A tense exchange of heavy hits at 6-6 in the tiebreak was won by Watson as Juvan collapsed with a double fault. It felt like a defining moment and so it was in the second, with Watson encouraged to hit cleanly to the lines and Juvan struggling to deal with the blows as he lost accuracy and errors mounted.

Watson raced to a 5-0 lead and was serving for the set in the blink of an eye, the promised land of the fourth round suddenly within reach. But the challenge of taking the final step was fraught with tension. A double foul from Watson helped Juvan break and the Slovenian threatened to pick up speed as she rediscovered the power of her lethal forehand. Juvan had more break points at 2-5, but Watson rocked the long game of two as a long forehand from Juvan brought match point.

The backhand stuck in Watson’s line was followed by the dexterity of her backhand drop shot, and as Watson dropped to her knees she kissed the grass that had been the scene of so many near-moments. World number 97 Jule Niemeie awaits in the fourth round and suddenly a remarkable quarter-final is now within reach.

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