January 11, 2018 / 10:45 AM / in 5 months

Watson to meet defending Hobart champion Mertens in semis

(Reuters) - Former champion Heather Watson capitalized on a fast start to race away from Donna Vekic and set up a semi-final encounter against last year’s winner Elise Mertens at the Hobart International on Thursday.

Aug 28, 2017; New York, NY, USA; Heather Watson of Great Britain returns a shot to Alize Cornet of France on day one of the U.S. Open tennis tournament at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

Watson needed to register two wins just to make the main draw but the Briton staved off her Croatian opponent’s late charge to prevail 6-0 6-4 in the quarter-final contest.

The 2015 champion won the first 11 games as she homed in on a double-bagel (6-0 6-0) victory before the big-hitting Vekic finally established a foothold in the match.

Vekic reeled off four successive games and came within two points of leveling up the second set before Watson broke for a sixth time to seal the contest in a little more than an hour.

“She’s a big hitter, who can hit winners from pretty much anywhere,” Watson, who converted all but two of her eight break-point opportunities, told reporters.

“When that started to happen, the most important thing was not to panic. When you go that far up, it can feel a bit up and down when you lose the next four games, but I had to realize that I was still 5-4 up and playing well.”

Meanwhile, the repeat of last year’s title showdown failed to materialize after losing 2017 finalist Monica Niculescu of Romania pulled out with a neck injury, allowing Belgium’s Mertens to advance to the last four without hitting a ball.

Elsewhere, fifth seed Lesia Tsurenko ended Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka’s strong run with a 6-1 6-1 triumph to also secure a place in the last four.

The Ukrainian advances to meet Romania’s Mihaela Buzarnescu, who secured the last semi-final berth with a 7-6(5) 6-1 win over American Alison Riske.

Reporting by Amlan Chakraborty in New Delhi; Editing by John O'Brien

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