HOBART, Australia - Heather Watson kept her hopes of winning a second Hobart International title alive as the 2015 champion eased past a surging Donna Vekic, 6-0, 6-4, to advance into the semifinals.
"Every match I play, I feel like I'm getting better and better, tennis-wise and mentally," Watson said during her on-court interview. "I'm just very happy at the moment."
The former World No.38 needed two wins in qualifying to make it into the main draw, but more than earned her spot with an emphatic win over No.3 seeded Sorana Cirstea to start the week and was on course for a decisive victory on Thursday when she won the first 11 games over Vekic.
"I don't think she played her best today, but I'm glad to win. It's another lovely day of weather here in Hobart, so I'm very happy to be here in the semifinals."
Unseeded but always dangerous, Vekic planted a seed of her own in No.7 Tatjana Maria, and began an improbable fightback, smacking a searing forehand winner to get within two points of leveling the second set.
"I was very happy with how I played today. Even at 6-0, 5-0, I don't think I dropped my level much at all. I think Donna raised hers and I knew she would because she's a great competitor.
"She's a big hitter, who can hit winners from pretty much anywhere," she continued in press. "When that started to happen, the most important thing was not to panic. When you go that far up, it can feel a bit up and down when you lose the next four games, but I had to realize that I was still 5-4 up and playing well."
An ill-timed double-fault set up match point and a Hail Mary backhand flew just wide to get Watson over the finish line after 61 minutes on court. In all, Watson struck nine winners and converted six of eight break point opportunities to book a semifinal clash with No.2 seed and defending champion Elise Mertens.
"My confidence is very high at the moment. At the beginning of the year, you want a lot of matches and that's definitely what I've gotten the last two weeks. I'm not even thinking about the Australian Open, and just about my next match here."
Mertens made her breakthrough at Hobart last year, winning her maiden WTA title in Tasmania, and was due to take on last year's runner-up Monica Niculescu in the quarterfinals before the Romanian was forced to pull out due to a neck injury.
"I can't remember playing her. Maybe I have," Watson said, though they met last fall in Luxembourg, where Belgian won in straight sets. "She obviously also loves it here and has been playing really well. She shot up the rankings next year so it'll be a tough match tomorrow."