Heather Watson and Laura Robson have been upstaging each other for much of the last year, but the older of the two British youngsters was unable to outdo her friend and rival here today at the Australian Open. Going on court less than 11 hours after 18-year-old Robson had pulled off a thrilling victory over Petra Kvitova, 20-year-old Watson was outplayed by Agnieszka Radwanska in the day’s opening match in Hisense Arena.
While Watson was disappointed to lose 6-3, 6-1 to the world No 4, she improved significantly on her performance against the same opponent at the same third-round stage at Wimbledon last summer. At the All England Club Watson won only two games and never looked in contention, but here she pushed Radwanska hard in the first set, only to let the 23-year-old Pole take control in the latter stages.
There was certainly no shame in losing to last year’s Wimbledon runner-up, who has won all 12 matches she has played this year, having already won titles in Auckland and Sydney. Radwanska will now play Ana Ivanovic, who progressed at the expense of her fellow Serb, Jelena Jankovic, winning 7-5, 6-3.
“I feel like I did a lot better this time than last time, and the score doesn't really show how I felt out there,” Watson said afterwards. “I felt a lot more confident this time. I felt like I could have been closer to winning that first set. Next time I'm just going to have to learn to take my opportunities and get better at that and stay mentally tough and focused throughout the whole match.”
Just as the cool conditions were a complete contrast to yesterday’s gruelling heat – a rain shower forced the closure of the roof in the middle of the second set - so the match was a very different contest to the previous night’s battle of the big hitters between Robson and Kvitova.
Radwanska compensates for her comparative lack of power by playing an entertainingly inventive game, full of slices, spins, lobs and drop shots. Watson, meanwhile, relies on her great athleticism and fighting spirit rather than the thumping ground strokes and serves that make Robson so dangerous.
Watson started well enough and had points to break for a 3-1 lead, but Radwanska held on and made the first break in the following game with a smart forehand winner down the line.
It was the first of five successive breaks of serve by Radwanska, who won 10 out of 11 games before Watson finally managed to hold serve when trailing 5-0 in the second set. The Briton also had points to break in the final game, but Radwanska stood her ground and went on to secure victory after 84 minutes.
“Especially in the beginning of the first set I was really tight,” Radwanska said afterwards. “I think that game when I was serving when she was leading 2-1 was really important. I think then I started to play better.”
Watson, meanwhile, found consolation in the fact that she was beaten by an opponent who, like her, lacks the power of players like Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova and even Robson.
“I think it's great that she's got to the top playing such a different game,” Watson said. “I think it's quite refreshing, because lots of the girls just want to hit one or two shots, big serve, smack a return. It makes it more interesting to play and to watch somebody who builds a point and works a point.”
Novak Djokovic, the defending champion, maintained his record of not dropping a set in the tournament when he beat the Czech Republic’s Radek Stepanek 6-4, 6-3, 7-5. The world No 1 is attempting to become the first man in the Open era to win three successive Australian Open titles.
Tomorrow’s programme will see Andy Murray take on Lithuania’s Ricardas Berankis in the third match in Rod Laver Arena at about the same time as Robson will be facing the American Sloane Stephens, another of the game’s rapidly emerging talents, on Court Two.