Nightmare start Down Under for Britain as string of players are sent crashing out
The British effort at the Australian Open totally unravelled on day one with the Union Jack folded up at the end of day one with not a single set being won.
What began so promisingly with four direct entrants added to be qualifiers James Ward and Laura Robson ended in embarrassment as everyone except customary lone survivor Andy Murray – who plays on Tuesday against Ryan Harrison – was wiped out.
Elena Baltacha, Heather Watson, Laura Robson and James Ward all fell while Anne Keothavong, who had been suffering from food poisoning in the past 48 hours, retired when trailling Germany’s Mona Barthel 6-0.
Spirited: Heather Watson fought hard but was ultimately outclassed in Melbourne
Expectations needed to be realistic,
despite the relatively encouraging situation of having five British
players in action outside Wimbledon, making it six entrants in all, the
highest number from Britain at a non-SW19 Slam since 1992.
The only one facing lower ranked
opposition was national number one Baltacha, who would have had high
hopes of dismissing French veteran Stephanie Foretz Gacon, whose ranking
of 107 was only just enough to get her into the main draw.
The French player did start
particularly well, and Baltacha was unable to recover from the 0-4
deficit that quickly accrued. The Ipswich player’s game was unusually
error-strewn, and although she played a little more solidly thereafter
she could not take advantage of what was very much a decent draw.
She also became annoyed about line
calls and will be unhappy at failing to emulate last year, when she won a
round at all four Slams.
Pain game: Laura Robson can't bear to watch
Like Watson, Robson was to fall to a
heavy defeat, although the eventual scoreline of a 6-2 6-0 loss to
former world No 1 Jelena Jankovic was somewhat harsh.
Considering she was on crutches
before Xmas due to a small stress fracture it was no disgrace to go down
so heavily to the No 13 seed.
In warm early evening sunshine before
a supportive crowd on the Margaret Court Arena, Robson immediately went
behind although she had three points to break back for 3-3 that went
There were plenty more opportunities
to win games and she actually won 40 per cent of the points in the match
– evidently not in the right order. Although she can trade strokes with
the best she is not quite ready to overcome one who moves as well as
Too good: World No 3 Victoria Azarenka of Belarus was in stellar form
Watson was taught a painful lesson
by world number three Victoria Azarenka as she became one of the
earliest casualties of the whole event thanks to a 6-1 6-0 defeat on the
Rod Laver Arena at Melbourne Park.
And the disappointing start to the
tournament from a British angle continued when qualifier James Ward fell
6-4 6-3 6-4 to Slovenian Blaz Kavcic in the contrasting environment of
the windblown outside courts, a disappointing outcome to what looked a
Guernsey teenager Watson found
herself overpowered, not to mention outgrunted, by the tall baseliner
from Belarus who arrived here fresh from winning the WTA Tour event in
Sydney last week. In high temperatures that greeted the start of the
season’s first Grand Slam Watson was short of artillery against a high
Can't watch: James Ward lost his discipline as he also went out
While Watson managed to keep her
opponent out on court for 67 minutes the outcome was never in doubt once
Azarenka recovered from a slightly shaky start. The Channel Islander
actually won the first game and had a break point in the second but then
double faulted twice to get broken and lost all momentum.
Azarenka’s grunt-yelp is an appalling
sound but she showed what a formidable ball striker she is in tandem
with that and her opponent simply had no answer. Watson is a fine
athlete and doughty competitor but still needs to add clout to her serve
and groundstrokes if she is to build on the promising start to her
She did have game points through the
match but could never convert them, hampered by a particularly bad day
with the serve, and that helped make the scoreline look fairly brutal.
Fierce, hot gusts that made play
difficult awaited Ward as his prize for coming through three qualifying
rounds and it was never easy against someone who nonetheless he will
have fancied his chances against.
He had plenty of them in all three seets but too often was let down by
sloppy errors when he threatened to put the world number 104 under
It did not help that the 24 year-old
Londoner had a bad day with his serve, landing in only 47 per cent of
his first deliveries, although the wind was a factor.
Bowing out: Elena Baltacha failed to shine against Stephanie Foretz Gacon
At the end of the second set, when he had broken back into contention
only to lose his serve again, he angrily slammed a ball into the
backfence and then smashed his racket into the ground.
It seemed to do
the trick as he went 2-0 up in the third, but then the slippage came
again and he lost the next four games, from which there was no recovery
and he lost in two hours and 17 minutes.
Having done so well to qualify for a
Slam for the first time he can take something away from here, but was
hugely disappointed not have taken advantage of a decent draw.
All in all, a day to forget, and yet again it is a case of Over to you, Andy.