Will Heather Watson reach her potential at Australian Open?

By Russell FullerBBC tennis correspondent
Heather Watson
"You've got the ability, baby", former coach Nick Bollettieri (right) tells Watson (left) whenever he sees her
Australian Open 2015
Dates: 19 January-1 February Venue: Melbourne Coverage: Commentary on BBC Radio 5 live sports extra, selected live text commentaries and daily reports on the BBC Sport website

"Right now, Heather is all business," Nick Bollettieri proclaimed.

The Heather Watson who first arrived as a 12-year-old at the Florida academy established by the veteran American coach is now at a career-high ranking of 38, and a multiple winner on the WTA Tour. The defensive-minded counterpuncher has convinced herself to take risks, and to construct points with more attacking ambition.

Last year she finally discovered the knack of beating top-20 players, and less than three weeks into this year Watson has already added a trophy the shape of Tasmania to the one she won in Osaka in late 2012.

The 22-year-old is bubbling with confidence heading into the Australian Open, and hopeful that this will be the year she makes it into the second week of a Grand Slam for the first time.

"I haven't got the results that I have wanted in the Grand Slam main draws," Watson, who beat American Madison Brengle 6-3 6-4 to win the Hobart International on Saturday, said in an interview with BBC Sport.

"I've made a couple of third rounds, but I definitely want a lot more than that. If it doesn't come this week I'm not going to panic. I think it all will come in the right time, but I definitely want to start making inroads in the Slams."

Heather Watson and Andy Murray
"He's such a good person to look up to, he's so nice and friendly. I learnt a lot from him on and off the court," - Watson on Andy Murray

The draw here in Melbourne could have been a lot kinder. Her first-round opponent on Tuesday, Tsvetana Pironkova, is best known for enlisting the help of the Bulgarian embassy when her hotel booking expired during her run to the 2010 Wimbledon semi-finals, and like Watson, is also in form.

Pironkova, 27, reached the semi-finals, in a very tough field, in Sydney last week, so expectations of the British number one taking on last year's runner-up Dominika Cibulkova in the second round are a little premature for now.

Prior to winning last week's event in Hobart, Watson played alongside Andy Murray in the Hopman Cup and also made time for seven weeks of pre-season training. She now seems very comfortable in the company of Diego Veronelli - her Argentine coach of one year. The 35-year-old former ATP player has been helping Watson develop a bigger serve and a more consistent slice, as well as keeping that trademark smile on her face.

"I'm a very happy person and she actually enjoys training with me," Veronelli told me, shortly after flying in from Tasmania.

"I'm not very bossy, I'm just easy going but at the same time I like working hard. I think that's a good combination and it's working really well between us."

It is 30 years since Britain last had a multiple winner on the WTA Tour. Anne Hobbs was the last to do so, but Jo Durie also won two titles in 1983: the year of her run to the semi-finals of both Roland Garros and the US Open. Durie is in Melbourne as a commentator for Eurosport, and is impressed by the way Watson has been able to break away from her instinctive habits on the court.

"You can't just think you are going to move her around the court and nothing is going to happen," she told me.

Heather Watson and Diego Veronelli
Coach Diego Veronelli (right) describes himself as "easy going"

"She will counter-attack and come back at you quite strongly so I think there's the surprise factor there, which she's worked on. But it is difficult when you are a more defensively minded player to take those risks: you have to really switch your mental thinking, and I think that's what she's done."

Watson's next goal is to be one of the 32 players seeded at a Grand Slam: a target which could well be achieved at the French Open in May. She wants to end the year inside the top 25, which again appears achievable if she can remain fit and make her presence felt more consistently at the Slams.

She dropped to 162 in the world after last year's Australian Open - the legacy of a year ruined by glandular fever - but says she will not be watching the rankings so closely this year. It is not as much fun, in all honesty, when the jumps you can make are that much smaller.

Estimates of how high she can go have become more optimistic over the past six months, and Watson will never be short of well-wishers, or some motivational words from her old mentor.

"Every time I see her, I tell her: 'You've got the ability, baby'," Bollettieri says.

"She's working hard, she's got a darn good coach, but now she's got to win matches that she's been losing and knock off some of the big ones. I think right now if she came forward a little bit more, she can be in the top 15 to 20 of the world. After that, who knows? But she has not reached her potential."


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