Heather Watson practicing at The Tennis Center at College Park, site of the 2011 Citi Open. (Photo by Ben Rothenberg)
SB Nation talks to up-and-coming British teenager Heather Watson about handling the heat, the London Olympics, and the White House.
COLLEGE PARK, MD -- Perhaps no nation in history has bemoaned its lack of success in a sport quite the way the British have with tennis.
With no men's Grand Slam champion since Fred Perry in 1936, and no woman since Virginia Wade in 1977, the nation that hosts Wimbledon has some justification for its complaints. The drought doesn't make the complaining any less obnoxious, but it is at least understandable.
Since Tim Henman's retirement in 2007, the vast majority of British hopes (read: unrelenting pressure) have been placed on the shoulders of Andy Murray, who has lost in the final of a Grand Slam three times and the semifinals four.
But soon the media pressure won't rest solely on Murray's tired Scottish shoulders. Two young prospects on the women's side, Heather Watson and Laura Robson, have both won Grand Slam titles at the juniors level, and have shown early in their young careers a tremendous ability to hang with older, stronger players.
Watson, 19, looks to be a force to be reckoned with sooner rather than later. The 2009 US Open Girls' Singles champion, Watson has made two WTA quarterfinals so far in 2011, in Auckland and Memphis, both times coming through qualifying to reach the final eight. She won her first match at a Grand Slam at the French Open this year, and with her current ranking of No. 104, will receive direct entry into a Grand Slam for the first time at the 2011 US Open.
Along with Dominika Cibulkova, Sorana Cirstea, Alize Cornet, Sabine Lisicki, and Bethanie Mattek-Sands, Watson was announced as one of the WTA Tour's "Xperia Hot Shots," an aggressive online marketing campaign that has taken Watson behind the scenes at Miami Fashion Week (whatever that is) and up in the air, playing airborne tennis against a retired soccer player. Quite a resume for a teenager from the tiny island of Guernsey.
After she finished her first practice session at the inaugural Citi Open, a WTA tournament in College Park, Maryland, I talked with Heather about her early successes, her off-court opportunities, and the challenges and perks that playing in the heat of Washington brings.
SBN: You were just out in the middle of the afternoon practicing, and there aren't a lot of other players out here practicing right now with how hot it is. That your idea, to tackle the heat head-on?
Heather Watson: Yeah, I've just come from England, so it's not exactly this type of weather. Last week I was practicing in Florida, which is very hot, but a different kind of hot than here. I've just flown in today, and I thought I had to get used to the heat, so I've had a hit now, and I'll be back on the court in a couple of hours.
SBN: I heard your coach talking about using towels and other things during changeovers--how much about playing here is the heat?
Heather Watson: It's so important, with the heat. It's such a mind game. On the change of ends I'll be doing the best I can to cool down (laughs).
SBN: It was just announced that you've gotten direct entry into the US Open. This is the first time you've gotten direct entry into a Grand Slam, is that right?
Heather Watson: Yeah!
SBN: That has to be pretty exciting for you.
Heather Watson: Yeah! I'm really pleased, because I've had to take wild cards for Wimbledon, and go through qualies at the French Open. It's really nice to get there by myself, and know that I've worked hard for this and that I deserve that main draw spot.
SBN: You won the juniors at the US Open a couple years ago--do you think this is your best surface and time of year because of that success?
Heather Watson: I like all the surfaces, but if I had to choose a favorite it would probably be hard court. The US Open is definitely one of my favorite tournaments of the year, and I look forward to it every year, especially because of winning the juniors there.
SBN: This is your first hard court tournament since Wimbledon--what are your goals from here on?
Heather Watson: Well, I'm just going to get used to this heat, and get some hard court practice for the US Open. And hopefully reach my year-end ranking goal of top 75.
SBN: You're one of the players who was picked to be part of the Xperia Hot Shots program--what has that whole experience been like for you?
Heather Watson: The whole Xperia Hot Shots experience has been so much fun. It was me and five other girls, six of us all together. We got to do really cool things, and meet really cool people. I actually got to meet Trey Songz, who's one of my favorite artists, and that was kind of scary for me (laughs). But it's all been so much fun. I don't know what's planned next, it's always a surprise.
SBN: Do you have any other idols besides Trey Songz that you'd like to meet?
Heather Watson: Ooh, yeah I do! I'd love to meet Johnny Depp, Usain Bolt, and...Lewis Hamilton.
SBN: The Olympics are happening in London next year, which has to be pretty exciting for you. Do you have any plans or goals for the Olympics, like who you might want to play doubles or mixed with if you were able to?
Heather Watson: Well, one of my main goals is to play the 2012 Olympics in London. So I'm training really hard for that. That's probably my main goal right now. For mixed doubles--I played mixed doubles for the first time at Wimbledon with Ross Hutchins, and that was a lot of fun. We played really well together. So maybe him! But I don't know doubles yet, I don't have a clue yet.
SBN: I heard your coach also talking to you about preparing for your next opponent, Eleni Daniilidou. How much before each match do you cater your preparations to your next opponent?
Heather Watson: It's very important for me to know who I play, but I don't want to know too early because I don't want to overthink. But I know how she plays, I've played her before, and I'm really looking forward to playing her again.
SBN: Do you have anything you want to do in Washington outside the court? Obviously there's a ton of tourism stuff to do here...
Heather Watson: Oh yeah! I want to see the White House.Yeah! That's the main thing. And, you know, to just get out and see the place, 'cause I've never been here before. So that'd be nice.
Stay tuned to SB Nation's coverage of the 2011 US Open Series at SBNation.com as well as on Twitter, @DailyForehand .