UNDER the merciless sun which made her dizzy, with feet aching from the heat of the ground and not a charitable shadow on court, Britain’s Heather Watson, just 16, delivered a heroic performance at the Australian Open as a ludicrous rule left her out in temperatures of 42C (110F).
That is hot enough to trigger the ‘run for cover’ extreme heat rule which quickly halted most matches on outside courts and allowed the Rod Laver Arena roof to be closed and the air-con deployed for Serena Williams and Svetlana Kuznetsova.
Spectators disappeared and soon the only match left was out in the extremities of Melbourne Park where Watson and her Japanese opponent, Miyabi Inoue, battled for a place in the junior quarter-finals.
Watson and Inoue were left to battle it out for 48 minutes as their final set had begun three minutes too late for the bizarre rule which states that if a set is started before the cut-off, it must be finished even on the hottest day of the summer in Melbourne.
Her mother, Michelle, watched anxiously among the two dozen people who braved the sun, including LTA officials and Judy Murray, mother of British No1 Andy.
“I was dizzy and it went black at times,” said Watson. “My feet were burning from the court surface and I had to lean on the racket to ease them as they were hot and hurt a bit.
“It was tough but I never thought about giving up. Now I know I can fight it out.”
After losing the second set the heat seemed certain to end her efforts but a 10-minute medical time-out is allowed after two sets in this heat and Watson, now feeling ill, headed to the dressing-room to lie down and spray herself with cold water.
She lost her serve at the start of the third set but then the girl from Guernsey broke back immediately and at 5-4 poured the last reserves of energy into the game to take the match 7-6, 4-6, 6-4.
It took two hours and 35 minutes and when they dragged themselves off to receive supervised cooling-down treatment, including an ice bath, the temperature was above 43 in mid-afternoon.
“I just had to tough it out,” said Watson, whose henna tattoo on her right leg which reads ‘awesome’ was perfectly apt.
She had gone on court immediately after her friend, Wimbledon junior champion Laura Robson had won, but her match started at 10am and was over in two sets, a 6-4, 6-2 victory over Croatia’s Silvia Njiric.
“I felt so sorry for Heather,” said Robson, 15. “It was very hot when I played and when she was on I was not allowed to go outside.”
At least we know now what her parents have known for a while; that Watson is more than just a talented racket swinger.
Her mum, Michelle Talingu-Watson, from Papua New Guinea, and her dad Ian, who runs the Guernsey Electric Company, moved to the Channel Islands 18 years ago. They have paid for years of development and travel but now an island-based company, Sportingbet and the LTA help with backing.
Michelle has given up her job to travel with her daughter but Watson is another junior who has gone abroad to get ahead, moving to the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Florida, which has produced a host of top players including Martina Hingis and Maria Sharapova.
“Her grandmother used to send her money for her birthday and she saved it up to buy a racket and turned out to be pretty good,” said Michelle. “Tim Henman came to our club, King’s, in Guernsey once and invited children to play a point with him. She was a ballgirl and jumped at it.
“Tim played a nice easy drop shot probably expecting the child just to reach it, but Heather hit a winner off it.”
When she was 12 she wanted to go to Bollettieri, which costs at least £35,000 a year. “We told her that it wasn’t going to be like living in a hotel,” added Michelle. “It’s an army barracks style. It’s hard but she is tough, even when she was 12.”