sport

Watson enthused by new start

Heather Watson has a new coach and a positive attitude heading into 2014.

The 21-year-old has been working with Argentinian Diego Veronelli for her first two weeks of pre-season training in Florida and is enthused about how the partnership is going.

Watson told Press Association Sport: "It's a trial period at the moment. We've only just met each other so we're still getting to know each other and learning about each other.

"It's only been two weeks but so far it's going really well and I'm working very hard.

"I can't wait for 2014. When you start a new season it's always kind of like the slate is wiped clean. I'm feeling really positive now and I feel like I'm playing well already even after only a couple of weeks."

Veronelli, 34, is a former professional player who reached a high of number 165 in the world rankings in 2004.

Watson split with long-time coach Mauricio Hadad after Wimbledon and a link-up with former British number one Jeremy Bates for the US hard-court season was only ever a temporary measure.

Coaching changes were the least of Watson's problems this year and it is not surprising she cannot wait to see the back of 2013.

All looked rosy when she made the third round of the Australian Open and reached a career-high ranking of 39 in February.

But Watson was battling extreme fatigue and it was almost a relief when she was diagnosed with glandular fever in March.

Doctors told the Guernsey player she was at the tail-end of the illness and she returned for the French Open in May, which she later conceded was premature.

Still struggling to train at normal intensity, Watson went into a downward spiral that saw her win just five matches in five months and drop almost 100 places in the rankings.

In October 2012, Watson won her first WTA Tour event in Osaka; this time she lost in the first round.

But the season at least had a positive ending.

Only the British number three having dropped behind Johanna Konta as well as Laura Robson, Watson played an event in Poitiers on the second-tier ITF circuit and reached the semi-finals, beating two top-100 players.

It was a much-needed tonic and, after two weeks at home in Guernsey, Watson is now focusing all her energy on preparing for a better 2014.

With her ranking down at 121, Watson will begin her season by trying to qualify for the WTA Tour events in Brisbane and Sydney and will also need to go through qualifying at the Australian Open.

Watson, an ambassador for Statoil's Heroes of Tomorrow Initiative, said: "If someone had asked me about playing in qualifying a year ago, I would have been like, 'No way'. It's a big challenge but people have been through it before.

"The whole experience has definitely made me a stronger person and if something like this ever happens to me again - touch wood it doesn't - then I'll know how to deal with it.

"This has been the first real hiccup in my career. It's definitely made me feel like I'm never going to take a win for granted ever again."

Many tennis players have struggled with glandular fever, and one of the worst things is not knowing when or if the symptoms will return.

"Since about September or October I've been feeling like myself again," said Watson.

"I asked if I should have more blood tests but glandular fever can stay in your system forever so you've just got to go on how you're feeling.

"It's difficult not to worry about it - am I tired because of the illness or just because I've been working hard? I'm trying to look at it like I haven't had it but making sure I sleep and eat right."

Despite all she has been through in 2013, Watson is not interested in easing herself into next season and is desperate to ensure her stay outside the top 100 is as brief as possible.

She said: "I'm feeling confident so I'm not just going to try to win a few matches, I want to do well and really push on. If I do that then I shouldn't be too far away from where I was."