Wimbledon 2017: Azarenka outlasts Watson in Centre Court epic

It was another case of so close yet so far for Britain’s Heather Watson on the hallowed turf of Wimbledon’s Centre Court.

The last time the British number two played a match on SW19’s main show court, she came within a point of knocking out Serena Williams.

This time the 25-year-old from Guernsey had two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka on the ropes, only to fall 3-6 6-1 6-4 in a two hour and five minute epic.

Watson, the world number 102, has struggled on the regular tour since her clash with Williams two years ago, however the Brit made a mockery of her ranking with some stunning tennis on the biggest stage.

Azarenka’s ranking of 683 is also ludicrously false after the Belarusian gave birth to her first child, Leo, in December.

Staggeringly, this was only her fifth match since she returned to the game last month, however her grit and desire never appeared in doubt.

Azarenka will now face either second seed Simona Halep or China’s Shuai Peng in the fourth round.

Watson's imperious start

Watson had failed to even take a set off Azarenka in their four previous meetings, the last of which came on a Canadian hard court in 2014.

However, the opening five games were one-way traffic, as Watson quickly familiarised herself with the Centre Court surroundings.

After saving two break points with a couple of snappy serves in the opening game, Watson stormed into a 4-1 lead, repelling Azarenka’s ominous baseline game with some measured groundstrokes.

The Brit won 70 per cent of the points behind her first delivery in the opening set, while also showing some nifty touches around the net.

Watson surrendered her serve for the first time in a forgeable sixth game but quickly recomposed herself to break again for 5-3.

The first set culminated in 34 minutes when Azarenka netted another tentative forehand into middle of the net.

Azarenka goes through the gears

However, the Belarusian isn’t a former world number one for nothing, and at the start of the second set her potent groundstrokes began to find their mark.

Watson’s serve was breached for the second time at the start of the second set and, as the Brit’s forehand began to go AWOL, Azarenka raced away to level the match at a set apiece.

Both players held serve comfortably in the first six games of the deciding set, however Azarenka then claimed a marathon game on Watson’s serve to take a 4-3 lead.

The Brit broke back but couldn’t hold off her opponent’s late onslaught.

In the final game, Azarenka saved two break points as she eventually served out the match, silencing the Centre Court crowd who had witnessed another classic.