January 11, 2018 / 10:44 AM / a year ago

Watson to meet defending Hobart champion Mertens in semis

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

(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.

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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