Australian Open 2012: Heather Watson, James Ward, Elena Baltacha, Laura Robson, Anne Keothavong all crash out

Five dive: Disastrous opening day as the blundering Brits suffer a total wipeout

Back in the UK, it was known as Blue Monday, due to the misery of the Northern Hemisphere mid-January. Although they were 12,000 miles away, Britain’s tennis players staged their own enactment of it here.

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Spirited: Heather Watson fought hard but was ultimately outclassed in Melbourne

THE TALE OF WOE:

Blaz Kavcic (Slo) bt James Ward (GB) 6-4, 6-3, 6-4.

Victoria Azarenka (Blr) bt Heather Watson (GB) 6-1, 6-0.

Jelena Jankovic (Ser) bt Laura Robson (GB) 6-2, 6-0.

Stephanie Foretz Gacon (F) bt Elena Baltacha (GB) 6-2, 6-4.

Mona Barthel (G) bt Anne Keothavong (GB) 6-0, ret.

The aggregate figures of Ward,
Robson, Elena Baltacha, Anne Keothavong and Heather Watson made for grim
reading, with only 20 games won against opposition who ranged from the
beatable to the overwhelming.

It was reminiscent of one of those
awful charges of the Light Brigade that have so often cropped up in the
opening rounds of Wimbledon.

In truth there have been worse days
for British tennis than this, notably at SW19 in 2010 when a greater
assembly of local hopes, inflated by the generous distribution of
wildcards, were mown down with the exception of Murray to create a new
nadir.

Keothavong was running a temperature
yesterday after catching a stomach virus — she retired after losing
the first set 6-0 to German world No 44 Mona Barthel — while teenagers
Robson and Watson were never likely to beat players of top-10 calibre.

Pain game: Laura Robson can't bear to watch

Pain game: Laura Robson can't bear to watch

Pain game: Laura Robson can't bear to watch

Nonetheless, neither could be happy
with the way they were steamrollered after promising starts and Baltacha
was particularly disappointing as the one player ranked far higher than
her opponent.

It cannot have been easy watching for
Judy Murray, who spent the day flitting between the various wipeouts to
inform her first outing as Fed Cup captain in Israel early next month.
On this evidence it is hard to see them emerging from their group of
Holland, Portugal and the hosts.

The normally reliable Baltacha was
bafflingly poor in going down 6-2, 6-4 to France’s world No 107
Stephanie Foretz Gacon, one of the last players to gain a direct entry
into the draw.

The Ipswich-based Scot had the
admirable record of winning at least one round at each Grand Slam in
2011, something that will not be replicated this season.

Too good: World No 3 Victoria Azarenka of Belarus was in stellar form

Too good: World No 3 Victoria Azarenka of Belarus was in stellar form

Can't watch: James Ward lost his discipline as he also went out

Can't watch: James Ward lost his discipline as he also went out

The world No 54 was clearly
emotional afterwards and said: ‘All the girls are disappointed. This has
been hard for all of us, but it’s only the third week of the season.

‘It was a good draw for me, I know that, but I still feel I’m improving.’

Watson was simply and predictably
outgunned by world No 3 Victoria Azarenka, and while there is no shame
in getting hammered 6-1, 6-0, her target of reaching the top 50 by the
season’s end looks optimistic.

She needs to develop more power off the ground and in her serve first, but at only 19 there is at least still time to do that.

NUMBERS THAT ADD UP TO ONE BIG FAILURE…

9 hours after the tournament started and the Brit pack was reduced from six to one.

20 games won in total by the five British first-round losers.

9 games won by Heather Watson, Laura Robson, Elena Baltacha and Anne Keothavong.

53 ranking slots between Baltacha (54) and Stephanie Foretz Gacon (107).

0 sets won by the five British hopefuls in their nap hand of straight sets defeats.

67 minutes taken by Victoria Azarenka to beat Watson. Robson lost in 69.

Those around Robson would be better
off dissuading her from making statements like yesterday’s
rainbow-coloured hairband until she is sufficiently confident in her
opinions to back them up when asked.

There is quite enough for her to
handle in trying to fulfil a potential that will see her move up to
around 117 in the world in the next rankings after coming through
qualifying.

In fact her progress is such that she
will probably not have to qualify for a Grand Slam again as, by Roland
Garros, she should be high enough to get straight in.

Considering that just before
Christmas she was on crutches, which has denied her much chance to work
on her movement, she did well to fight her way through qualifying and
the 6-2, 6-0 scoreline against world No 13 Jelena Jankovic was harsh,
given that she won 40 per cent of the points in the match.

Ward was furious with himself for not
putting up a better show in losing 6-4, 6-3, 6-4 to Slovenian Blaz
Kavcic, the world No 103 and exactly the type of player he must beat to
make serious progress.

There is little to choose between
those ranked between 100 and 200 and he was physically capable of
winning, especially with three qualifying matches under his belt.

Bowing out: Elena Baltacha failed to shine against Stephanie Foretz Gacon

Bowing out: Elena Baltacha failed to shine against Stephanie Foretz Gacon

Ward is the clear British No 2 and
will be key in next month’s Davis Cup tie against Slovakia in Glasgow.
But it is a sobering reality that he will likely only be just inside the
world’s top 150 by then.

In fact, it was a fairly sobering day all round.