French Open: Heather Watson battles her way past Nicole Gibbs over two days

Heather Watson came through a tough test over two days to prevail against her doubles partner Nicole Gibbs in three sets 5-7, 6-2, 6-2 on day two of the French Open.

Strong opening set from the American

Both players had to battle through tough opening service games to hold, with Watson’s lasting five minutes before Gibbs saw her 40-0 advantage on serve evaporate.

The American appeared to be struggling with her serve and had a lot of strapping on her shoulder, raising the question as to how much practicing she had been able to do in recent times. The Brit capitalized on this chance and broke her opponent in the fourth game to take a 3-1 lead.

Gibbs responded immediately, with exceptional shot making to bring up two break points. Watson saved the first with an overhead smash which could not be retrieved, before finding an exceptional short court angle off of the backhand to save the second. When facing a third break point the Brit was resolute in defense and a series of moon balls were struck as she used the heavy conditions to her advantage. The American was not disheartened and earned her reward on a fourth break point as Watson drove her backhand beyond the baseline.

In the eighth game, Watson had the chance to restore her break advantage, but Gibbs hung in well, refusing to miss in an extended rally to save the break point and go on to hold to level at 4-4.

After missing the opportunities to break, the Brit was punished in her next service game, dropping serve before the American closed out the set 7-5.

Stop-start second set

The next set began with both players holding serve early on before rain stopped play for a couple of hours with Watson leading 3-2.

It was this delay which proved to be a catalyst in shifting the momentum in the match. Watson went on to break in the first game after the restart and then held serve comfortably before breaking again to level the match at one set all.

Tight start to the third set

Watson may have taken the set, but with all the momentum with her, it was Gibbs who imposed herself on the Brit’s opening service game. Under pressure at 30-30, Watson landed a crucial volley to thwart the danger and hold to take a 1-0 lead.

In the third game, the American made the pressure tell as she earned herself three break points. Watson saved the first with a volley before Gibbs netted an attempted drop shot winner on the second. But it was the Brit who produced the error in the third after a missed volley to hand the break to her opponent.

In the following game, Watson looked to bounce back with a half chance at 15-30, but the American recovered to 40-30 before the umpire stopped play due to the court being unsafe to play on as the rain returned.

The rain fell at the perfect times for Watson in this match. Photo: Getty
The rain fell at the perfect times for Watson in this match. Photo: Getty

Play resumes on day two

The players returned on day two at around 5:30pm local time with Gibbs serving at 2-1, 40-30, final set. Gibbs dropped the next point to put herself under pressure at deuce and the Brit sought to take full advantage at break point. The American forced her opponent into an error to deny Watson the break back, but she could not deny her a second time as the Brit leveled at two games all.

Both players continued to play edgy tennis as Watson saw her 40-0 advantage on serve slip to deuce. The Brit made an important backhand overhead winner to get back to game point and held to move back in front.

With the momentum with her once again, the Brit produced her best return game of the match. Watson struck three forehand winners in a row before nailing a backhand return of serve winner down the line to break to love.

Watson was not out of the woods yet as several game points passed her by as she found herself break point down. The Brit came up with a key forehand winner picked out of the air to save it before proceeding to secure a crucial hold to move one game away.

The near 24-hour break in play proved to be rotten luck for the American, but Watson adapted to the adversity and conditions well to progress after breaking Gibbs once more to secure the win 5-7, 6-2, 6-2. The Brit will progress to face Svetlana Kuznetsova and will be looking to reach the third round in Paris for the first time.

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