Heather Watson has regularly proved herself to be a gritty competitor and dug deep here at the Australian Open to win her first match on the opening day of the tournament.
Feeling drained of energy and light-headed, Watson requested medical attention midway through her match against Romania’s Alexandra Cadantu but recovered from a slow start to win 2-6, 6-3, 6-2.
Watson is normally one of the fittest and most athletic players on the tour but the world No 50 had to deal with a series of problems before securing a second-round meeting with Kazakhstan’s Ksenia Pervak.
Having pulled out of last week’s tournament in Hobart because of an elbow problem, Watson sometimes served at only 50 per cent of her normal power. In the latter stages she also had to deal with cramp.
“At the beginning I definitely wasn’t there,” said the British No1. “I wasn’t playing well. I didn’t have much energy today.”
The match was played out on Court 13, one of the furthest from the main show courts but there was standing room only as a large crowd gathered to cheer on Watson. There was loud support for the Briton, whose progress has not gone unnoticed in this part of the world. It was a day of bright sunshine but it was chilly in the shade.
For a set and a half Watson struggled to get a foothold in the match. She served poorly, hit ineffective returns, made regular forehand errors and had no answer when Cadantu resorted to moonballing tactics.
The world No 91 was a model of consistency, hitting to a good length and making few mistakes but she did not have any big shots. An on-song Watson would surely have had little trouble dominating the match.
Cadantu, however, broke three times in a row to take the first set and appeared to have taken control when she led 3-1 in the second set. In the following game Watson called for the trainer and a doctor. After the Briton had held serve, both players received treatment during a lengthy break. Watson had her temperature and pulse taken, while Cadantu received treatment to her right shoulder and right foot.
When they resumed Watson won four games in a row to take the second set, but the Briton’s problems were not over. After going 5-3 up with a big forehand she slumped in a chair at the back of the court before summoning up the strength to serve out and level the match.
Being troubled by cramp forced Watson to start going for her shots, while mistakes crept into Cadantu’s game. The Romanian recovered an early break in the decider to level at 2-2, but from that point her resistance crumbled.
The early rounds of Grand Slam tournaments usually produce some painfully one-sided matches and the first day here was no exception. Maria Sharapova opened the tournament on Rod Laver Arena and was immediately into her stride, beating Olga Puchkova 6-0, 6-0. Three days after launching her Sugarpova confectionery brand, there was little sweetness on offer as the world No 2 demolished her fellow Russian in just 55 minutes.
Sharapova is on course for a third-round meeting with Venus Williams, who was in similarly merciless mood against Kazakhstan’s Galina Voskoboeva, winning 6-1, 6-0.
Williams first played here 15 years ago. “When you’re young you just don’t think it will ever end and you’re on top of the world,” she said. “I realise one day it will end. You know it will, but you’re young, so now I realise all these opportunities. I try to make the best I can of them. When it’s over, I will be out — and, hopefully, I won’t run out of money and have to commentate.”
* This story also appeared in The Evening Standard