Finding happiness off the court with a footballer has given Heather Watson a long-awaited boost as she heads into her eighth Australian Open.
A chance meeting with Yeovil Town striker Courtney Duffus at the end of Wimbledon last summer is what the British number two says is behind her reviving form going into the season’s first Grand Slam.
Watson is back in the world’s top 75 after making the semi-finals of last week’s ASB Classic in Auckland, and getting established in a cross-sport relationship does not appear to have harmed her partner either.
Heather Watson admits she has enjoyed net returns since finding love with her new boyfriend
Yeovil ace Courtney Duffus follows Watson’s matches and plays a calming influence on the star
Ex-Everton youth striker Duffus charmed Watson when they courted over dinner last summer
Former Everton youth player Duffus was named National League player of the month for December and has scored 12 times so far this season.
‘Since we met each other we’re both doing a lot, lot better,’ said Watson. ‘He’s had a big part to play – he’s super positive.
‘I don’t like to let boys have too much influence over me but he has really been a good influence. He’s so calm, level-headed.
‘I think you all know I’m quite emotional. He’s just really, really supportive. He gets up at all hours of the night, he watched all my matches in Hobart. I just need that.
‘It’s not just because he plays sport. That helps but I know there are sportspeople that don’t understand as well.’
Duffus (left) has been a smash at Yeovil, top-scoring for the National League outfit this season
Watson (right) was defeated by Elena Rybakina in her Hobart International semi-final on Friday
Watson (right) has confirmed she will return to Fed Cup action by representing GB next month
Watson is not much of a football follower and had some negative perceptions of what a member of that profession might be like, only to be pleasantly surprised.
‘It was finals weekend of Wimbledon and I was going out to dinner with Naomi Broady (fellow British player).
‘She was staying with me in London and he had the weekend off, he was in London with his brother and we just met in a restaurant.
‘At that stage of my life I had no interest in boys. I thought they were the worst. I didn’t want a boyfriend for a long time so for me it was just going to be a fun night –nice meal, meet someone new and then that’s it. He had other plans.
‘I found out later in the night (he was a footballer) so I was like, “for sure, not going to date him. Not going there.”
‘I don’t really follow football. I do now – well, I follow Yeovil. He’s the opposite of what I thought a footballer was.
‘On Boxing Day we went (to watch Yeovil beat Torquay 6-2) with his family and he scored a hat-trick, so that was awesome. I’ve learned that they don’t train nearly as much as we do – it’s a good life.’
Now 27, Watson is trying to find the spark that will see her regain a place in the world’s top 50, where it looked like she would permanently reside when she nearly beat Serena Williams at Wimbledon in 2015.
Watson came closest to knocking out eventual champion Serena Williams at Wimbledon 2015
While play at the Australian Open was due to begin this morning, she will wait until Tuesday to face Czech Krystyna Pliskova, the world number 62 who is less formidable than her twin, world number two Karolina.
Dan Evans, Kyle Edmund and Jo Konta were the British singles players due to be in action on day one, with Serena Williams and Roger Federer expected to have top billing.
Watson confirmed that she will play for GB in the Fed Cup next month, while Middlesex’s Harriet Dart will play on Tuesday after qualifying for the second consecutive year.
Dart, who faces Japan’s Misaki Doi, will surely avoid her fate of last year when she lost 6-0 6-0 to Maria Sharapova on Rod Laver Arena – a defeat that persuaded her to recruit a sports psychologist.
Harriet Dart (right), Watson’s doubles partner, is in to the second round of the Australian Open
Dart was beaten 6-1 6-1 by World No1 Ashleigh Barty in the third round at Wimbledon last year
The 23-year-old hopes to have learned from her 6-0 6-0 first round defeat in Australia last year
‘I played on a big court here and then I played on Centre Court at Wimbledon (in the third round) against Ash Barty,’ she said.
‘I learned a lot from it in terms of playing on a big court, big crowd situation and who it’s against. I think I really tried to channel that in a better way.’
The whole subject interests the 23 year-old Middlesex player, who was studying for an Open University degree in psychology before putting it on hold to focus on her tennis career.
‘It’s quite difficult when you are dedicated to one thing and then you have to study 20 hours per week on top,’ she said. ‘Hopefully I will go back to it. I’ve already done a year and a bit.’