Heather Watson believes her time spent at IMG Academy in Florida prepared her for the cut-and-thrust of life on tour.
A former US Open junior champion, Watson broke into the world’s top 50 after winning her maiden WTA singles title at the Japan Open in October.
She has been forced to spend time on the sidelines this season after being diagnosed with glandular fever, but after returning to action at the French Open, is hoping to be fully fit in time for Wimbledon.
Although Watson returned to the UK to recover from her illness, she still spends much of her time at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, where she first moved when she was 12.
"I played a lot of different sports growing up but I knew I wanted to focus on just one so it came down to tennis and swimming," Watson told tennishead. "I just loved tennis that much more though and I loved the competition. There weren’t a lot of opportunities in Guernsey so my parents and I decided to look at different academies."
"I visited IMG Academy and immediately fell in love with the place. I begged my parents to send me and I was so excited to be there as a full-time student living in the dorms even though I was just 12. I wasn’t homesick at all and I thrived in the lively and competitive environment. It really helped me develop as a tennis player and be ready for the tough and very competitive life of living on the WTA Tour."
"I loved every aspect of my time in Bradenton. Not only was the training world class but I made life-long friends from all over the world and from a number of different sports. I still return to IMG Academy for training in between tournaments and I feel right at home."
Watson was full of praise for founder Nick Bollettieri, who set up the first live-in tennis academy in 1978. At 82, Bollettieri is still heavily involved with the academy.
"Nick just somehow knows what to say and when to say it," Watson said of the charismatic American. "He is always so supportive of me but he has never been afraid to show me some tough love. I respect him so much and value everything he has ever taught me. "He still sends me messages after a good win or even a tough loss and I always make a point to spend time with him when I am back in Florida for training. He is an amazing man."