Can Johanna Konta Spark Heather Watson Back Into Life?

Another first round, another defeat for Heather Watson as she bowed out of the Korea Open last week against Elizaveta Kulichkova, and again on Monday against Jelena Jankovic.  She has five first round defeats in her last six tournaments.

Since coming within two points of defeating Serena Williams on the grass of Wimbledon, the Guernsey-born Brit has failed to build any momentum, taking just three wins in Toronto back in August.

More worryingly for Watson will be that lady-luck does seem to have been shining on her. In all five tournaments Watson has drawn players of a lower ranking and has only once come through, against Irina Falconi.

Compare this with the form of the British number two, Johanna Konta, and you have a vastly different picture. Since Wimbledon Konta has played just three tournaments. From those tournaments she has two trophies, two top twenty scalps and just a single defeat.

A sixteen match unbeaten run saw her claim the Granby and Vancouver titles before her well-publicised run to the fourth round of Wimbledon where she was halted by Petra Kvitova. The 500 ranking points picked up has steered Konta to within touching distance of the British number #1 spot.

This week may prove decisive in discovering who will claim this crown as both Heather Watson and Johanna Konta have come through qualifying to compete in the Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open.

Furthermore, the ball now lies firmly in Watson’s court as Konta once again prevailed over Andrea Petkovic to move into the second round on Sunday. This means that unless Watson can defeat Jelena Jankovic then Konta will become the new British female number #1 by a single place and ranking point.

But can the challenge of Konta spark some life back into Heather Watson? Watson has not had a British companion in the top #100 for a long time now after Laura Robson’s prolonged wrist injury and she has sometimes cut a lonely figure leading the line for female British tennis.

As with Robson, Watson spent some time away from the court after a long battle with glandular fever which tormented much of her 2013 season. There was some suggestion that she has never fully recovered as some tiredness symptoms seem to occasionally re-emerge, most recently in the first round of the 2015 Australian Open.

Watson and Konta had largely dissimilar starts to the 2015 season. Whilst Watson claimed the Hobart title back in January and reached a career high #38, Konta remained a largely unknown figure with fairly anonymous results.

But the recruitment of a psychologist has been the catalyst for Konta’s changing fortunes, a fact she has freely admitted. This reformed mentality has driven her forward and has allowed her to swing freely in competing with the very best in the women’s game.

In contrast, Watson has seemed lost at times this year. Indecisiveness over whether to pursue a more offensive style or stick with her stalwart defensive technique. This has led to some confused performances and one wonders whether a psychologist may not be far off her radar after seeing the success it has had on her Fed Cup team mate.

Watson’s loss against Jelena Jankovic on Monday was big. Losing the title of British number #1 strikes a bitter blow to her season. The question now is whether Heather can respond or whether we will have a new long-term Queen of British tennis in Johanna Konta.