Getting To Know... Heather Watson
Published June 16, 2010 12:00
EASTBOURNE, UK - Vivacious teen Heather Watson played her first ITF circuit event last year on the English Channel island of Jersey - just a short ferry hop from Guernsey, from where she hails. A few months later she announced herself to the world by winning the US Open juniors, and three months ago made her Sony Ericsson WTA Tour debut as a wildcard at Miami, falling first round to Tsvetana Pironkova. Since then Watson's been busy collecting experience, qualifying on the green clay of Charleston before testing Elena Vesnina, and last week stepping onto Birmingham's grass as a wildcard, where Alla Kudryavtseva got the better of her. Though too humble to mention it, she also recently graduated from high school with straight As (including in marine biology) and at this week's AEGON International the 18-year-old arrived in the Tour winner's circle, turning the tables on Pironkova in qualifying before scoring her first main draw win, over Aleksandra Wozniak.
We caught up with Heather after her cool, calm and collected 63 62 defeat of world No.48 Wozniak at Eastbourne.
Heather, tell us about your family.
HW: My mother, Michelle, is from Papua New Guinea and the rest of her family is still there. My dad, Ian, is originally from Manchester. They met in the '80s when they worked for the same company in Port Moresby. I have a brother, Adam, and two sisters, Stephanie and Julie.
How did you get started playing tennis?
HW: My parents played socially at our local tennis club in Guernsey, which was a two minute walk from our house if we went out the back way. I used to do ballet at the club, but I was always curious about tennis. I begged my parents for lessons, and when I was about seven I started to play and loved it. I did all sorts of activities, including squash and badminton, but tennis was always my favorite. After a while I stopped everything else and just focused on that.
What's Guernsey like?
HW: It's a small island, so everything is close by, and our house is right near town, which is handy because I love shopping. And it's such a pretty place, especially the harbor. You know everyone, which is great - and even if you don't know them, you act like you do! I love being from Guernsey.
With fewer than 10 tennis courts on Guernsey, how did you get your junior career off the ground?
HW: I started travelling with my mum to tournaments in places like Scotland, not too far away from home. As I started to do better and reach higher grades we started going further afield. Then, when I was 12, I moved to Florida to attend the Nick Bolletieri Tennis Academy.
Obviously things will change now, but what has your typical day at Bolletieri's been like?
HW: I'd wake up at 7.30. My mum and I live right next to the Academy, so I'd just jump over the wall. Practice would start at eight and last until 11. Straight after that I'd have fitness from eleven till 12. Then I'd eat, run home and take a shower, ready to go to school at 12.40. After school finished at 4.30 I'd go straight back to practice for maybe an hour, hour-and-a-half. Then back home for another shower, dinner, homework… and finally sleep.
Favorite subject at school?
HW: Art, definitely. I like random, abstract artworks with lots of color... something that you just look at and go 'whoa... what is that?' Unfortunately I don't get much time to visit museums when I'm travelling, but I was recommended to bring a notebook with me so I could draw in my free time, which I do.
What are your strengths as a player?
HW: My footwork and movement. I can read the direction my opponent is going to hit and I'm a quick mover. And also my mentality - I'm not going to give up at all. I'm going to fight for every point because it's never over until the last point has been played.
Are you concentrating on any particular aspect of your game at the moment?
HW: I'm working on my fitness, because I need to get stronger and build up my stamina.
Winning the US Open junior title last year brought you to attention. How do you look back on that experience?
HW: I would play that final all over again, because it was one of the best feelings in the world. You couldn't take the smile off my face… I was smiling when I went to sleep. Everyone saying well done and congratulations, it just didn't get old at all. It was just amazing, and gave me the confidence and encouragement to try and be successful.
Now you've played a few Tour matches, what are your thoughts on the differences between this level and the juniors?
HW: I feel the junior and senior games are completely different. By comparison the juniors feels very slow-paced and it's about whoever makes the first mistake. In the women's, you can't wait for an error. It's whoever takes it on first and wins the point. Everyone is so mentally tough, they won't give up on one point. In juniors you get a few easy early rounds, but not here. It's a much tougher world. But this week in Eastbourne has shown me I can compete with these girls.
You didn't waiver at all against Wozniak, even when it looked like she might be making her move.
HW: Sometimes I'm playing a match and I just want it to be over quickly. But today, I was, like, I don't mind if this carries on, this is really fun. I loved playing so well with the home crowd supporting me. I wasn't really thinking about winning, just enjoying the moment. I was so, so happy to win through qualies, and I didn't want it to stop there.
So far, what are your general observations about the Tour, besides the on-court stuff?
HW: You know, when I was brand new a few months ago I thought everyone was going to be really mean and to themselves and it was going to be lonely. For some reason that's the impression you get. But everyone's been really nice. Marion Bartoli came up to me and wished me well - I was so impressed she even knew my name! Players might look really hard when you watch them on TV, but they're completely different off the court.
Who are your best friends on Tour?
HW: There are a few but I'll mention Ajla Tomljanovic - she's from Croatia and we've been friends through the juniors. And Laura Robson - she's been texting me today. We've been having fun playing doubles together.
HW: Wimbledon, without doubt.
HW: I didn't start playing on it till a couple of years ago, but I love grass and I love hardcourts. And when I play on the clay a bit and get warmed up, I like the clay. So I'm not really that bothered - but I'm loving the grass right now.
You've been honored with a wildcard for Wimbledon - how do you think you will handle the pressure and focus that the British players inevitably are put under?
HW: Actually I haven't even heard the word 'pressure' in a while, I haven't even thought about it. I'm just getting a lot of encouragement from people wishing me luck and telling me just to enjoy it out there. That's what I'm going to do.
What's your ultimate goal in tennis?
HW: My ultimate goal is to reach the Top 10. But, saying that now, I don't think Top 10 will be good enough for me… I want to get to No.1! I'd also like to get a few Grand Slams under my belt - especially Wimbledon. At the moment my ranking is No.344 and by the end of the year I'd like to be Top 200. I didn't play that many tournaments at the beginning of the year, so it could be quite tricky, but the points from this week will help.
Aside from art, what are your interests? What do you like to do in your free time?
HW: I love music, and hanging out with my friends - they're all so funny! I like playing other sports like football, and I like jumping on the trampoline. Anything active, or even just playing video games - I have lots of games on my iPod.
If your best friend was asked to describe you, what do you think she'd say?
HW: She'd say I'm completely crazy, nuts, very spontaneous, energetic. If you dare me to do something, I'll do it. Funny sometimes, but not that funny.
And what qualities do you admire in other people?
HW: I love it when you don't know someone and they still smile at you.
Have you ever thought about what you might have done if you weren't a tennis player?
HW: To be honest I just don't have a clue because it's always been tennis in my mind. But it would be something arty, like designing clothes or painting pictures.
If you were stuck on a desert island and could only have one luxury with you, what would it be?
HW: Chocolate milk.