HEATHER Watson is entitled to look towards Wimbledon with a sunniness generated by a spell of good form.
But the 22-year-old from Guernsey is also painfully aware of the shadow that has been cast by the death of her friend Elena Baltacha.
It is not maudlin to suggest Baltacha, who succumbed to liver cancer last month, will be a presence at the championships. Her irrepressible, engaging personality made her a favourite with fans and a mentor to players such as Watson, Laura Robson, 20, Johanna Konta, 23, Samantha Murray, 26, and Tara Moore, 21.
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Watson, who reached the semi-finals of the Aegon International at Eastbourne last week, said yesterday: "It's tough losing Bally. But I think everybody's still got her in their thoughts. There's always memories of her at every tournament."
She believes the spirit of Baltacha is looking down on her as she progresses back up the rankings. Now ranked 70, Watson is determined to improve that over the summer, starting with a victory over Ajla Tomljanovic of Croatia in the first round on Tuesday.
"When I focus on playing well and doing the right things in my matches, the ranking and all that will come," she said.
She remembered Baltacha fondly, but also looked to Wimbledon champion Andy Murray for inspiration, saying of his straight-sets defeat of Novak Djokovic: "It was a huge win for Andy and I think the country. Everybody just got behind him.
"I remember watching it. I remember watching the year before, the speech with him getting upset. Then seeing last year was brilliant."
This campaign has its sadness for Watson but its hopes, too. "This year I'm confident. I know what I'm doing. I've got it in my mind. I visualize it." she said.