Kristina Mladenovic recovered from a set down to defeat 2017 Nature Valley International semifinalist Heather Watson in three sets on Monday.
David Kane
June 25, 2018

EASTBOURNE, Great Britain - Fresh off a run to the Nature Valley Classic doubles title in Birmingham with Timea Babos, Kristina Mladenovic booked a second round clash with Ashleigh Barty after knocking out British wildcard Heather Watson, 6-7(2), 7-5, 6-3.

Mladenovic won a rematch of their over three and a half hour battle at last year's Abierto Mexicano Telcel in similar style on Monday, rallying from a set down to survive Watson in two hours and 40 minutes.

"I feel like every time we play each other, it's a long, big fight, with some great tennis," she said after the match. "Once again, I had to dig really deep. I'm sorry to the spectators because I know she's the home favorite. I still enjoyed playing here even though it wasn't easy to play against such a nice girl. I'm happy to get through because her game is suited well to grass. It's a good win for me."

Back in Eastbourne as a wildcard, Watson was looking to channel the form that saw her reach the semifinals at this event last year, racing out to a 5-2 lead in the opening set and ultimately fending off a French fightback to take it in a tie-break. 

Mladenovic struck eight double faults in the opening set, but remained aggressive as the second set underway, exchanging breaks with Watson early on and holdin on through a pair of tough service games at 3-3 and 5-5, breaking Watson to level the match on her third set point. 

"It's the grass court season, so I'm trying to be aggressive, and some of those double faults are because I went for it too much. On the other hand, my serve helped me today because I was able to serve it out. I told myself to keep going for it because I knew what I was aiming for. Some double faults are better than others!"

With the momentum behind her, the former World No.10 grabbed the only break of the final set in the sixth game and saved two break points in the very next game to edge over the finish line in three sets.

In all, Mladenovic struck 29 winners to 51 unforced errors and converted five of 17 break point opportunities; Watson struck more winners to fewer errors (39 to 34), but will be left to rue the chances missed on return, winning just three of 13 break points.

Awaiting Mladenovic on Tuesday is Nature Valley Open winner Barty, seeded No.8 in Eastbourne after earning back-to-back wins over Naomi Osaka and Johanna Konta in Nottingham.

"I feel like it's a great draw to play two girls who are playing so well on grass. I'm happy to be through this one first; I came last night from Birmingham, so it's a great feeling to keep on going. I'll take some big pleasure and desire to do even better tomorrow."