Heather Watson’s infectious personality has won her many friends during Wimbledon this year, and it will play an important part in her path to stardom according to the man who turned Maria Sharapova and Andre Agassi in to champions.
Watson became the first British woman in 10 years to make it to the last 32 at Wimbledon when she beat Jamie Hampton in straight sets.
The beaming smile the 20-year-old wore after beating Hampton was such a hit that her picture was splashed across the front pages of morning newspapers.
What makes her appealing to the British public is the fact that she has a bubbly personality. She always seems to be giggling and enjoys life – in contrast to Andy Murray’s often dour demeanour.
Nick Bollettieri, who has coached Watson for the last eight years, believes it is hard to under-estimate the importance of Watson’s nature.
“She is always very humble. She is well-liked by everyone,” the American said.
“She’s down to earth and she’s always smiling. She’s a grounded person and that’s important for tennis players.
“Some live off the excitement of tennis. Some go off and do modelling and enter beauty pageants with bathing suits but others don’t.
“There are players who are quiet and humble. She is one of them. Nadal is quiet and so is Federer.”
Bollettieri thinks Watson’s humble nature is as a result of her sharp progression to adulthood.
While school friends enjoyed a comfortable and secure upbringing in Guernsey, Watson wanted to become a professional tennis player and she thought the best way to do that was by moving to Bollettieri’s famous tennis academy in Florida, where the likes of Agassi, Sharapova and Monica Seles developed into future grand slam winners.
Upping sticks along with her parents – Ian and Michelle – to move across the Atlantic at the age of 12 was a huge sacrifice, Bollettieri admits.
“That wasn’t a big jump for her, it was huge,” he said.
“It was a big sacrifice for them. Maria Sharapova came at nine years old, Tommy Haas came when he was nine, Andre at 13.
“It’s a sacrifice, but I believe in life you have to give up something to get somewhere.
“The road to success today is very complex, it isn’t easy, so you have to give up something to get the full package.”
Watson’s size – even now she is between 5ft 6in and 5ft 7in – meant Bollettieri did not immediately believe she was a star in the making, but she gradually proved to him that she has the ingredients to be successful.
“Heather began coming into the limelight at 14 or 15,” the American added.
“Then I realised she was a fighter. Heather is going to beat a lot of people.
“She was seen as a counter-puncher but we have seen this week that she has become more potent and aggressive. And she is only 20 years old.
“The average age now is 25 on the tour. Sharapova won here when she was 17 but that doesn’t happen too often now. So Heather is still a young pup.”
Watson will not settle for being a plucky loser – that much was evident when she smashed her racquet after being knocked out of the French Open by Julia Goerges in May.
Tomorrow she will become the first Briton since 1996 to reach the last 16 at Wimbledon if she beats Agnieszka Radwanska.
Facing the third seed in a home grand slam would faze most 20-year-olds but Watson is not concerned.
“I’m not worried at all,” she said.
“I know she’s got very good hands but she’s not necessarily the most powerful of players.
“I love getting the opportunity to play the top players. It helps me gain experience.
“I go into every match thinking I’ve got a shot.”