Twenty-year-old Heather Watson became the first British woman to win a WTA Tour singles title in 24 years when she defeated Chang Kai-Chen, 7-5, 5-7, 7-6(4) in the final of the HP Open in Osaka, Japan on Sunday. The victory was Watson's first career WTA Tour Singles Final, and she saved four match points in the third set to claim the title.
"I was in the changing room afterwards, changing my clothes, and I thought to myself, 'Did I really win?' So it's just starting to settle in," Watson said. "I've worked so hard for this moment my whole career - that's why I practiced so hard, ran all those miles and lifted all those weights, for moments like this."
With the singles win and doubles finals appearance, Watson stands alone as the No. 1 ranked British woman in singles and doubles.
âThis last year it was important that she accepted that she had the ability to just be a tennis player, but to be a world-class champion,â said legendary tennis coach Nick Bollettieri.
Bollettieri continued, âIt took time, but this year, for the first time, Heather Watson said, âNick, I want to be a better player and win the big matches.' And she has gained confidence now, and I sincerely believe that staying here and going through that period of, âcan I make it?' and IMG Academy always believing in her, and also outstanding support of her parents, and in this last year, the support that Judy Murray has given to her, has now put Heather into the Top 50 in the world.â
Heather Watson's journey began more than eight years ago when she arrived at IMG Academy at the age of 12. She crossed the pond to train with the IMG Academy Bollettieri Tennis Program and attend school. While a student at IMG Academy, Watson took home a number of junior titles including the British U-14 Championship (2006), British U-16 Championship (2007), and most impressively, took the title at the 2009 U.S. Open Juniors singles, defeating Russia's Yana Buchina 6-4, 6-1. Watson graduated in 2009, and continues to train at IMG Academy.
In Osaka, Watson also reached the doubles final with Kimiko Date-Krumm. She has won two WTA Tour Doubles Titles in 2012, earning
titles at the Bank of the West Classic held in Stanford, Calif., in July; and the Texas Tennis Open, held in Dallas, Texas in August.
Watson's win continues a streak of dominance for IMG Academy alums in the Land of the Rising Sun. Her victory comes on the heels of fellow IMG Academy alum Kei Nishikori's historic win at the Japan Open just one week earlier, when he became the first Japanese player ever to win that event.