Australian Open 2014: Laura Robson and Heather Watson not the new kids in town now
First-round defeats and success for next generation send out timely warning to British pair
Time marches on. Laura Robson, who came to the public's attention when she won junior Wimbledon as a wide-eyed 14-year-old, will no longer be a teenager as of next week. Her fellow Briton, 21-year-old Heather Watson, having reached a career-high No 39 in the world rankings 11 months ago, is set to drop out of the top 150 in a fortnight.
At this stage last year the two young British women were on a high, the world at their feet, having reached the third round at the Australian Open. Today they were having to deal with the disappointment of falling at the first hurdle. Both lost in the opening round of matches on the first day, meaning that British interest in the women's singles was over long before folks back home had risen from their beds.
Robson was the first player to be knocked out of the tournament, losing 6-3, 6-0 to Belgium's Kirsten Flipkens. Watson put up more of a fight, but lost 7-5, 3-6, 6-3 to Slovakia's Daniela Hantuchova.
Ever since Watson joined Robson as a junior Grand Slam champion by winning the US Open five years ago, the two Britons have been hailed as two of the game's most exciting prospects. There is of course still plenty of time for them to realise their potential, but in the interim new youthful talent is emerging, with several of the next wave of players winning their opening-day matches here.
Luksika Kumkhum, a 20-year-old Thai, sprang the biggest surprise of the first day with a 6-2, 1-6, 6-4 victory over the former Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, who lost to Robson here last year. American Madison Keys, who at 18 is the youngest player in the world's top 50, showed her resilience in outlasting Patricia Mayr-Achleitner of Austria 6-2, 6-7, 9-7.
Canadian Eugenie Bouchard, aged 19 and newcomer of the year for 2013 on the women's tour, beat China's Hao Chen Tang 7-5, 6-1. Annika Beck of Germany, 19, crushed Croatia's Petra Martic 6-0, 6-0, and Puerto Rican Monica Puig, 20, who reached the fourth round at Wimbledon last year, beat Anna Tatishvili of Georgia 6-2, 6-4.
In a match that underlined the passage of time like no other, the 16-year-old Swiss Belinda Bencic beat the 43-year-old Japanese, Kimiko Date-Krumm, 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 on her Grand Slam debut. It was the largest age gap in a Grand Slam tournament since 47-year-old Martina Navratilova lost to 19-year-old Gisela Dulko at Wimbledon 10 years ago. "When I was fighting with her, she didn't look like a high school girl," Date-Krumm said.
Watson was no luckier than her compatriot (AP)
Date-Krumm, who is 10 years older than the next most senior player in the women's draw, reached the semi-finals here 20 years ago. Her world ranking peaked at No 4 in 1995, two years before Bencic was born. She returned to tennis in 2008 after taking a 12-year break from the sport.
Bencic, who won two Grand Slam junior titles last year, at the French Open and Wimbledon, is coached by Martina Hingis's mother, Melanie Molitor. "I was a little bit nervous in the beginning," Bencic said. "It was special."
Robson and Watson have both entered new coaching arrangements in an attempt to revive their fortunes. Robson now trains in Florida with Nick Saviano and Jesse Witten, but the British No 1 has hardly had a chance to show what she can do after suffering a wrist injury at the end of last year. Today was her first completed match for more than three months and her lack of match sharpness was evident in an erratic display.
"It's a tough one today, but everyone has those kind of days and you have to just come back from them stronger," Robson said afterwards. "It was up and down the whole time, and I don't think I ever really got into a rhythm at all. I wasn't really able to deal with her slice that well. It just didn't go well."
Watson is also on her way home to Guernsey but could take plenty of satisfaction from her efforts here as she attempts to rebuild her ranking after a year disrupted by glandular fever. Watson won three matches in qualifying last week and kept Hantuchova, a former world No 5, on court for more than two and a half hours.
Although Watson felt it was a missed opportunity, she added: "I've played 10 matches this year already. If you'd told me that last year I would have taken it in a second. Even though I might be dropping in the rankings, I'm not worried about it because I feel like I've had a good start to the year. I've improved as a player and it's been a positive few weeks."
Watson is pleased with the work she has done with her new coach, Diego Veronelli. "We haven't been working together for very long but already I've learned so much from Diego," she said. "One thing that really stands out that I wanted to add to my game was the slice and we've been working on that. We worked on that every single day during the off-season. I haven't used it a lot because it takes time to add to your game, but I've used it a few times in my matches and it's really happened."
The world No 121 said she was not concerned with her ranking, "as long as it doesn't get too low".
She added: "I feel like sometimes it's a good thing playing lower down, winning matches and getting confidence. I think what I need right now is matches."
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