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James Ward faces struggle to qualify for Australian Open


British number two James Ward went one set down against Spain's Inigo Cervantes-Huegun in the first round of Australian Open qualifying before rain in Melbourne forced play to be suspended.

Poor weather delayed the start of the match and Ward took a while to get into his rhythm going 4-1 down to the Spaniard ranked 60 places below him at 221.

He faced further problems when Cervantes-Huegun had a point for a 5-1 advantage. But he stayed resilient to claim the sixth game and then hit back himself to take the next three games.

The set went into a tie-break but to the Brit was powerless to resist Cervantes-Huegun who dominated it from the off, taking it 7-2 before rain suspended all play.

The best of three-set match will resume at 23:00GMT on Wednesday. Should Ward advance he will face a further two qualifiers to reach the first round of the Open.

The 24-year-old is hoping to make the main draw in Melbourne for the first time having never made it past the second round of qualifying.

Fellow British players Laura Robson and Naomi Broady are set to start their qualifying campaigns on Thursday.

Robson, seeded 14th in the qualifiers, has been drawn to play 20-year-old Melanie Oudin of the United States and Broady, 21, will face another American, Ashley Weinhold.

Oudin, a former US Open quarter finalist, provides Robson with a stern test in her quest to reach the main draw for a first time.

The 20-year-old slipped from a career high ranking of 31 to 132 in 2011 but did win the mixed doubles at Flushing Meadows in September with partner Jack Sock.

Robson may also curse her luck with the draw with the prospect of playing the top seed in qualifying Vesna Dolonts in the third round.

Broady faces an easier prospect of making it into the second round of qualifying as she faces 21-year-old Weinhold.

Weinhold is ranked 223 in the world, 28 places below Broady and has only played in one Grand Slam event, when receiving a wildcard for the US Open in 2006.

Should Broady make her way passed Weinhold, former junior world number one Noppawan Lertcheewakarn could await in round two.

Four British players have automatically qualified for the draw which takes place at 23:00GMT on Thursday.

Andy Murray is seeded fourth in the men’s singles while Elena Baltacha, Anne Keothavong and Heather Watson also qualified as of right for the women’s draw.

Robson, who turns 18 later this month, told the Australian Open website she prefers to qualify for the Grand Slam’s rather than receive a wildcard.

"It's always better to qualify, she said. “"I've been lucky enough to get wildcards into Wimbledon for the last few years, but hopefully I won't need one this year. I'm going to play qualifying here and hopefully I'll do well.

"It was very pleasing [to win my first Grand Slam main draw matches last year], especially playing at the US Open because I qualified and then won my first-round match. That was a big deal for me.