Australian Open 2014: Laura Robson and Heather Watson crash out in first round, ending British interest in women's singles
Robson was the first player knocked out of the opening Grand Slam of the year after she lost to Kirsten Flipkens while Watson went down swinging in a three-set defeat to Daniela Hantuchova
Britain’s interest in the women’s singles here today was over almost before it was possible to get a sun tan on a glorious first day at the Australian Open. Heather Watson and Laura Robson, who featured in the first matches on Courts Two and Three respectively, both lost, though their exits were in contrasting fashions.
While Robson was the very first loser at the year’s opening Grand Slam event, going down 6-3, 6-0 in just 50 minutes to Belgium’s Kirsten Flipkens, Watson gave a typically gutsy performance before losing 7-5, 3-6, 6-3 to the experienced Slovakian, Daniela Hantuchova.
Robson has been troubled by a wrist problem this year. She refused to blame her defeat on the injury, but her lack of recent matches was reflected in an erratic performance. “Practice is a lot different to playing a proper match in Slams,” she said afterwards.
Having recently changed her coaching arrangements – she now trains in Florida with Nick Saviano and Jesse Witten – Robson had been keen to make a good impression, but was in trouble from the moment she lost the opening game on a double fault. She lost the first nine points of the match.
Flipkens, who reached the semi-finals at Wimbledon last summer, gave little away. The world No 19 made just three unforced errors in the first set, which she took in 26 minutes after Robson netted a forehand following the Belgian’s punishing return of serve.
With the second set finishing in double-quick time, Robson admitted: “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.”
Robson and Watson, No 48 and No 121 in the world respectively, will slip down the rankings following their defeats, both having reached the third round 12 months ago. Watson, nevertheless, can take some satisfaction from winning three matches in qualifying, though the 21-year-old from Guernsey regarded today’s defeat as a missed opportunity.
A former world No 5, Hantuchova is a superb ball-striker and was ruthless in punishing anything short. Watson, however, chased every ball and frequently had the 30-year-old Slovakian at full stretch. She had her chances early in the first set, dropped serve in the fifth game, but broke back for 4-4 with some aggressive hitting.
At 5-5 Watson netted a lame forehand to give Hantuchova what proved the decisive break of the first set, but the Briton responded in spirited fashion to take the second. Hantuchova went 4-1 up in the decider, but once again Watson fought back, breaking serve with a superb cross-court backhand return.
However, just when she appeared to have fought back into contention the Briton dropped serve again. Another netted forehand allowed Hantuchova to break for 5-3 and the Slovakian served out for victory after more than two and a half hours.
“I felt I was close throughout,” said Watson, who was given a standing ovation. “I had plenty of chances today. I didn’t take them, but as long as I keep creating opportunities for myself, that’s a good thing.”
Having fallen down the rankings last year after being diagnosed with glandular fever, Watson was pleased to have come through such a testing encounter without any major physical problems.
“I didn’t find it too hot at all but in the third set my legs were slowing down a bit,” she said. “I felt them a bit heavy and my muscles were a bit sore, but when you’re in a match like that it’s easy to forget about and just focus on winning.”
Sara Errani, the No 7 seed, became the first top 10 player to go out when she was beaten 6-3, 6-2 by Germany’s Julia Goerges. Venus Williams, who as the world No 37 is now the fifth-ranked American, lost 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 to Russia’s Ekaterina Makarova.
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