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Heather Watson wins all-British affair as Coco Gauff kicks off 2021 with ruthless win


Watson got her year off to a winning start (Picture: Getty Images for LTA)

Heather Watson fought hard to make a winning start to 2021, recovering from a set-and-a-break down to beat fellow Brit Jodie Burrage in Abu Dhabi.

Watson, the British No. 2, admitted her game ‘didn’t feel good’ during the two hour and 22 minutes tussle but was satisfied she was able to ‘scrap’ through.

Burrage impressed on her WTA Tour debut but will perhaps rue missed opportunities as Watson won 4-6 6-2 7-5.

‘I’m very happy to get through that one,’ Watson said after the match. ‘I’m not taking anything away from Jodie, I know what a great player she is but my level was way off today.

‘I couldn’t find my serve, my forehand, backhand. I just didn’t feel good out there.

‘But I thought I just fought really well and was able to scrap and just kept trying to the end and somehow got through it.’

Gauff got off to a strong start (Picture: Getty Images)

Watson will face Russia’s Ekaterina Alexandrova in the second round. After the tournament she will head to Melbourne to continue her Australian Open preparation.

Players are teamed up during the 14-day quarantine upon arrival in Melbourne and Watson revealed she will be training with fellow Brit Johanna Konta before mixing in with American teenager Amanda Anisimova and Petra Kvitova.

Earlier in Abu Dhabi, Coco Gauff’s season started with a bang as she thumped Norway’s Ulrikke Eikeri 6-0 6-1 in windy conditions.

She said after the match: ‘Honestly just me living in Florida, it’s super windy so I’m used to playing in weather like this.

‘There was a lot of adjusting to the ball and just playing pretty agressive, these courts are kind of fast so I knew if I got the first two balls pretty deep in the court the point would open up for me.

‘She played really well. I know the score doesn’t look like it but it was a tricky match and a tricky player.

‘She has really good hands and I think she hit a lot of volley winners, I’ve never been someone be able to drop-volley off some of the passes that I hit, they were pretty good and she just hit them like nothing.

‘Yeah, she’s not the easiest player to play in the wind because it’s really tricky.’

Kenin got her year off to winning start (Picture: Getty Images)

Gauff will face Greek No. 1 Maria Sakkari next in what promises to be an intriguing early battle in 2021.

‘Honestly, I know this is playing two different opponents, added Gauff.

‘Today she hits the ball a bit more spinny and tomorrow, I know Sakkari hits the ball really hard, big serve and it’s just going to be whoever can take control of the point first.’

Top seed Sofia Kenin, meanwhile, got her year off to a solid start.

The Australian Open champion beat Chinese qualifier Yang Zhaoxuan 7-6(4) 6-2 to set up a clash with Belgium’s Kirsten Flipkens.

‘I feel like it’s because of the lack of matches for me, that’s why I kind of went down a bit,’ said Kenin.

‘Of course, [Yang] played good. I’m overall happy with how I played, but overall I have to improve my game if I want to do well here.’

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