Heather Watson was unable to continue the party on Centre Court after her unexpected Wimbledon run was stopped short of the quarter-finals by Germany’s Jule Niemeier. There would be no heartbreaking ending on this occasion and although Watson will regret the missed opportunity of an open tournament draw, the 23-year-old Niemeier proved to be on a different level and is more than deserving of her place in the last eight.
Watson overcame the trauma of a string of previous Wimbledon defeats by reaching the fourth round of a grand slam for the first time in 43 attempts, but Niemeier had no such history to speak of and swung freely as she grasped the opportunity on what is her Wimbledon debut. Niemeier, the world No 97, had upset the second seed Annet Kontaveit early in the tournament and will face another German, Tatjana Maria, for a place in the semi-finals.
The 30-year-old Watson was put under pressure by Niemeier’s aggressive return game and heavy forehand, as the German broke twice in the opening set. Backed by a powerful first serve, good hands at the net and an eye for the backhand lob, Niemeier settled from an early wobble in the second set to quell any chance of a Watson comeback. Watson’s performance was littered with errors and her second serve proved to be a fatal weakness during the match, winning just four of the 15 points she faced and committing four double faults.
After playing the role of plucky underdog so often at Wimbledon, including in previous defeats to grand slam champions Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka, Watson seized the opportunity to defeat Kaja Juvan in the previous round and was again not faced with the intimidating task of toppling of favoured opponent, in what was the biggest match of her 13-year career. Jule Niemeier was another unheralded opponent for this stage of a major.
A match between two players bidding for their first quarter-final at a grand slam came after an impressive roll call of nearly 30 former champions, as Centre Court celebrated its 100th year. Bjorn Borg, Billie Jean King and the sudden appearance of Roger Federer, alongside Andy Murray, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, led an star-studded cast. The inclusion of Sir Cliff Richard, reprising his entertainment duties from 1996 by singing to the crowd, was odd but overall Wimbledon struck the right note with their celebrations that also recognised Sue Barker on what is her final year of presenting the BBC’s coverage.
Still, it left a daunting task and stage for Watson and Niemeien, on her Centre Court debut, to emerge onto. Niemeien admitted to not watching the ceremony in case she was left star struck by the list of names, but she settled immediately.
That match sparked into life with an outstanding point at 30-0 on the Niemeier serve, fitting for the tennis royalty in the royal box. A phenomenal pick up lob by Watson was reached at the baseline by Niemeier, who won it with the pirouetting backhand pass. From there, she took aim at the Watson second serve to edge ahead in the opener. Watson unable to match the strength of the Niemeier forehand and a backhand lob from the German set up the double break. Watson swung in frustration at a missed volley at the net, as Neimeier wrapped up the first set in 27 minutes with an angled volley.
Watson was unable to take advantage of hesitancy from Niemeier at the start of the second set, as the Germany went from having break point of the Britain’s serve to being broken herself in the following game. Errors at the net were punished by Watson, who whipped Centre Court up with a stunning forehand pass
The advantage was quickly relinquished. Watson stalled on a second serve at 15-30 and the double fault was followed by a forehand error. Overall, the second set was far closer, with Niemeier able to take control in the important moments. Niemeier had the serve which Watson lacked to get her out of difficulty and the second serve problems continued as she made two costly double faults for Niemeier to break and lead 4-3.
Niemeier, striding now, served out another impressive hold from 0-30 and the flashed forehand pass was her 22nd winner of an eye-catching performance. Watson saved two match points as she made her final stand, but Niemeier responded by finding her first serve and then targeting the Watson backhand. The 30-year-old could only find the net and the celebration of Centre Court would not be followed by a home victory.