Caroline Wozniacki returns to Eastbourne final with win over Brit Watson

The 2010 Eastbourne champion Caroline Wozniacki returned to the final of the tournament for the first time in eight years as she beat British wildcard Heather Watson, 6-2, 3-6, 7-5. This will be the fourth WTA final that the Dane has played in the 2017 season, but she is yet to be the last one standing and is searching for a first WTA title since the Hong Kong tournament at the backend of last season.

This was always going to be a huge effort for Watson to earn her fifth win of the week. The former World No.1 Wozniacki usually performs well at this event and she’s one of the grittiest, committed defenders in the women’s game and makes her opponent beat themselves because of her relentless court coverage from the baseline.

The British wildcard suffered the first loss of serve even after holding two break points of her own in the second game of the match. Watson would go on to lose her serve three times in the first set, which would have knocked her confidence, but the Briton fought her way back in the second.

The tough part about playing Wozniacki is that she forces the more aggressive player to strike closer to the lines and ultimately makes her opponent cough up more unforced errors than what they usually would. Could Watson really manage that aspect of her game and put on another perfect display in the next two sets to steal another upset victory?

Watson’s game plan was perfected in the second set, after going down a break she really took her attack to the forehand of Wozniacki, which is the weaker wing of the Dane. Watson sensed where the window of opportunity was coming from and even made use of her exemplary net skills that often goes unnoticed when talking about Watson in her matches.

Watson trailed by a set and 1-2* down, but only dropped a single game for the remainder of the set, taking it by 6-3. The biggest improvement we have seen from Wozniacki this week is the threat she’s imposing on the forehand. It’ll never be the weapon that her backhand is, but if she can make that more of a potent weapon then she gives her opponents even more to ponder over.

Watson, who was trying to be the only British representative in the Eastbourne final, after Johanna Konta had to withdraw with injury, gave way too much away in a 50-minute deciding set. When it really mattered and counted for everything, Wozniacki didn’t give Watson an inch and remained the more solid from the baseline. And the Dane really rose to the top of the world rankings because of that quality in itself.

It feels like an opportunity missed for Watson. She led by a break in the first set, fought back from a set and a break down and pushed one of the world’s top players to the limit, but in the press conference she took many positives over beating the World Nos.9, 17, and 23 in a single week: “Yeah, definitely. Lots of court time. I’m feeling great about my game and got some great match wins under my belt this week and just match wins. I’m feeling confident going into next week.”

Her overriding feeling was disappointment, understandably: “Right now I’m pretty disappointed that i lost. As far as my performance goes, I’m pleased with how I fought back and got myself back into the match.”

World No.6 Wozniacki now will face last year’s Eastbourne finalist Karolina Pliskova in tomorrow’s final. Wozniacki told the press exactly what she expects from that encounter: “It’s going to be a tough match. Obviously she didn’t play today so she will be more well rested for tomorrow. That’s a small advantage but at the same time. I’m just excited to be in another finals this year. Hopefully I will try make it fourth time lucky (smiling).”

Wozniacki leads the head-to-head by 4-1, but Pliskova won the Doha final match over the Dane in straight sets earlier this year.

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