HEATHER WATSON’s Wimbledon charge ran out of steam as she was beaten in three sets by Victoria Azarenka.
British number two Watson, enjoying a resurgence of form after a torrid year, looked on course to make it to the second week for the first time at a grand slam after taking the first set.
But former world number one Azarenka, only recently back in action after giving birth to her first child, proved too strong and ran out a 3-6 6-1 6-4 winner on Centre Court.
In a dramatic final set both players went toe-to-toe, holding serve for the first six games before landing blow after blow with successive breaks.
But at 5-4 Azarenka, the two-time grand slam winner, held her nerve to serve out for a memorable win.
In a breathless encounter Watson had to save two break points in the opening game, the second with an ace, and promptly broke her opponent in the second.
Azarenka may still be a little ring rusty – son Leo was only born in December – but when the Watson serve wobbled slightly she ruthlessly broke back to love.
However, Watson’s resilience came to the surface again with two mighty forehands to secure her second break, before she clinically served out the first set.
Azarenka found a second wind in the second set, the Belarusian breaking three times – the second with the aid of a handy net cord – to level the match and test Watson’s resolve again.
Watson’s service games were becoming noticeably longer in the decider as Azarenka applied the pressure, and it told in the seventh game when Watson netted a tired forehand.
But there was more drama to come when Watson, who had considered using up her last challenge earlier in the set before opting against it, correctly challenged a baseline call to bring up break point, which she duly dispatched to level again.
However, Azarenka had one more break up her sleeve and although Watson, to her credit, earned a further two break points in the next, she was eventually overpowered and her stay in SW19 ended in the first week again.