A “super positive and confident” Heather Watson has said her main focus next year will be the Tokyo Olympics after reaching her first WTA Tour final in three years at last month's Tianjin Open.
The British No 2 broke back into the world’s top-100 following her run in China, an ascendancy which has guaranteed her entry into the main draw of the Australian Open. But as she prepares to head into her pre-season training camp in Florida in the coming weeks, Watson insists her focus already lies elsewhere.
“The Olympics is huge for me and it’s my No 1 goal for next year,” she said. “I’ve had such great experiences there in the past, I love to represent my country and be involved in something like that. My diary where I make all my notes and plans just has massive letters on it – 2020 – because that’s all I want to focus on.”
That goal might have seemed distant earlier in the year, when Watson, 27, endured a four-month losing streak from January to May before dropping down to ITF level in Japan. Her fortunes continued to slide during the grass season, when first-round defeats in Nottingham, Birmingham and Eastbourne foreshadowed a week-one exit at Wimbledon.
While her ending in Tianjin was doused with defeat after falling short to Sweden’s Rebecca Peterson, Watson has credited her consistency to new coach Rob Morgan, who she says has sharpened her “mental edge”.
“Now I’ve done a complete 180,” she said. “I’m feeling super positive and confident for next year, especially after my week in Tianjin. That’s probably some of the best tennis I’ve played in my life, let alone the year.
“I haven’t had the greatest last couple of years due to some things in my personal life. I haven’t necessarily been surrounded by the right people. Now I feel like I’m in a really good place and I have been in the past couple of months and I think that’s really shown in my results towards the end of the year, especially compared to the beginning of the year, when I was like, ‘I just want to win a match.’
Watson would have to dip under world No 56 to have a shot at what would be her third Olympics, following second-rounds singles exits at the London and Rio Games. For now, she is relishing any challenge in her bubble of positivity. She even saw the bright side last week when she surprised dozens of children at Kensington Leisure Centre after inadvertently turning up with tennis rackets unstrung at a programme run by Give it Your Max, a charity which introduces tennis to underprivileged children from inner city areas throughout the UK.
“The kids had never seen rackets without strings before, so that was a positive,” said Watson, an ambassador for the charity. “It’s really nice to bring the community together and do something positive and give kids the opportunity to do something fun and enjoyable with their friends that’s healthy as well.
“Being from Guernsey, we had Tim Henman come over once and he did a tennis clinic with us. We all got to play a point against him and I was the only person who won a point. I’ll never forget that experience.”