British No. 2, Heather Watson claimed her first title in almost four years with a hard-fought 6-4 6-7 6-1 victory over Canadian teenager, Leylah Fernandez in Acapulco on Saturday.
Watson needed 10 match points to finish off a battling Fernandez, but the Brit eventually got over the line to win her fourth WTA title, and her first since March 2016. Watson’s most recent tour-level triumph had also been in Mexico, in Monterrey in 2016, when she defeated Kirsten Flipkens in the final. She was also victorious in Osaka in 2012 and Hobart in 2015.
“I’m so happy to get my fourth title… It’s been a few years, so I’m just really, really happy I came through that match,” said Watson, who is projected to move back into the top 50 following her Acapulco success.
“It was so up and down… I had those [match] points in the second set, and I wasn’t able to win that, but I was really pleased with how I stayed in the moment, and won that third set.”
Despite faltering at the finish line, 17-year-old Fernandez can look back at a terrific week, during which she not only made her first tour-level quarter final, but went further to contest her maiden final in what was just her fifth WTA event.
“The thing I notice about her the most is the head on her shoulders. She’s very, very mature for her age,” Watson said of her beaten opponent.
“I think it’s her mental toughness that really stands out… I think she’s going to have a great career ahead of her and rise up the rankings very quickly if she keeps playing like this.”
Saturday’s two-hour 46-minute final was in keeping with Watson’s hard-fought title run, which included two other three-set victories over Coco Vandeweghe and Christina McHale, and a couple of tight two-set wins against Katerina Bondarenko and Xiyu Wang.
Watson made a flying start in the final, winning the first four games against her inexperienced opponent, and while she failed to serve out the set at 5-2, she made no mistake at the second time of asking, converting her first set point to take the opening set.
The 27-year-old carried that momentum into the second set, breaking in the opening game and consolidating for a 2-0 lead, but Fernandez battled back to level the set at 2-2. The young gun firmly sunk her teeth into the match after that, matching Watson stride for stride as the second set reached a dramatic crescendo. The 17-year-old saved two break points at 4-4, but then carved out four set points across her next two return games, two each at 5-4 and 6-5.
Having survived that testing period, Watson took command of the tie break and opened up a 6-2 lead, but Fernandez refused to yield, saving all four match points to prolong the match. The teenager saved a fifth match point at 7-8, and went on to win the next two points to punctuate a dramatic set of tennis, and push the final into a decider.
“It was heartbreaking losing the second set,” Watson admitted. “But I also reminded myself that I also saved a lot of set points before that. It was so close, both of us had our chances.”
“I just had to leave that set behind me, even though I had my opportunities, and just remind myself that it’s just a tennis match and it won’t be the end of the world if I don’t win,” Watson added. “Just play every point, and focus on just that one point, that next point.”
After failing to convert all those match points in the second set, Watson made an impressive recovery in the deciding set, breaking twice to rush out to a 5-1 lead. Fernandez made one last stand, saving four more match points with Watson serving for the match, but the Brit would not be denied, firing a forehand winner on her tenth match point to conclude an absorbing contest.
— WTA (@WTA) March 1, 2020
Watson and Fernandez are scheduled to compete at this week’s Monterrey Open, with both players looking to build on their impressive showings in Acapulco.