Keothavong drowns her high hopes

'Bloated' British No 1 takes on too much fluid ahead of exit from Australian Open
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The Independent Online

"Young British woman drinks too much" is the sort of story you might expect to find in another part of a newspaper, but for Anne Keothavong it was a painful sporting reality here yesterday. The 25-year-old Briton went into the first day of the Australian Open with high hopes against Anna Chakvetadze, only to scupper her own chances with her pre-match preparations.

"I felt bloated," Keothavong said after her 6-1, 6-7, 6-1 defeat. "I just drank too much before the match. I was aware that it was pretty hot and I had a long day hanging around waiting to play. With the heat you just want to stay hydrated, but you can sometimes drink too much. I felt a little uncomfortable out there, but it was my own fault."

Keothavong, who felt so unwell that she had to call for a trainer midway through the second set, said she had drunk three bottles of an isotonic sports drink as well as water before the match. "Sometimes you feel maybe it's better to drink too much rather than too little, because the conditions were tough out there," she said. "But there are no excuses. She played a better match than I did."

In the circumstances Keothavong did well to push the world No 17 as hard as she did. In a match littered with mistakes – both players made 53 unforced errors – the world No 53 hung on in the second set and took the tie-break after winning five points in succession from 4-2 down.

At that point, however, the umpire, Gabriela Zaloga, contributed to Keothavong's downfall by mistakenly telling Chakvetadze to serve first in the deciding set. The 21-year-old Russian, an intelligent player and a sweet striker of the ball, took advantage and promptly ran away with the match.

Zaloga told the players of her error at the end of the first game of the decider. "You can't do anything about it," Keothavong said. "I just had to get on with the match. It's a bad mistake for an umpire to make at a Grand Slam, though I don't think that was the reason why I lost."

Keothavong's defeat completed a day of disappointment for the British women, who were enjoying their best representation in the main draw of a Grand Slam tournament for 17 years. Mel South was beaten 6-2, 6-4 by Marion Bartoli, while Katie O'Brien (left) went down 6-4, 6-4 to Monica Niculescu. Elena Baltacha, the fourth British woman, was playing today against Germany's Anna-Lena Grönefeld.

Having been outplayed in the first set, South had Bartoli in difficulty when she led 4-1 in the second but then played a poor service game and faded badly thereafter. O'Brien struggled to find her rhythm against an opponent she described as "probably the most unorthodox player on the women's tour". She never quite got to grips with the athletic Niculescu's sliced forehands, powder-puff second serve and general unpredictability.

South and O'Brien, appearing at their first Grand Slam tournament outside Wimbledon, played in the middle of a stifling day, with the temperature nudging 36C. The players used ice packs to cool down, but there was no such facility for the boisterous crowd, who numbered 56,869, a record for the first Monday.

O'Brien, playing on an outside court, had to cope with the noise from a group of raucous supporters on one neighbouring court, a crowd of girls on another who needed several takes for a cameraman recording their screaming chorus of "Come on, Rafa!" and the general hullabaloo created by a constant flow of passers-by.

"There were a few guys who came along for a good time and were calling out between points and even between serves," O'Brien said.

Keothavong had the advantage of starting late in the afternoon but had to contend with a live rock band playing in a garden area adjoining Court Three. Wimbledon it was not.

For the home fans the heat had been turned up by Bernard Tomic and Jelena Dokic. Tomic has been an outstanding junior and at 16 years and 90 days he became the youngest male in the professional era to win an Australian Open match by beating Italy's Potito Starace 7-6, 1-6, 7-6, 7-6. He is also the fourth-youngest male in modern times to win a Grand Slam match anywhere after Michael Chang (who won at the US Open aged 15 years and 191 days), Jimmy Arias and Aaron Krickstein.

Ten years ago 16-year-old Dokic knocked Martina Hingis out of Wimbledon, but her career quickly disintegrated under the influence of her eccentric father, Damir, whose misdemeanours included calling Edgbaston members "Nazis who supported the bombing of Yugoslavia", raging over the price of salmon at the US Open and accusing the Vatican of influencing his daughter's decision to go back to Australia, where she is now living again. She had originally returned to her native Serbia following her father's falling-out with the authorities here.

After beating Austria's Tamira Paszek 6-2, 3-6, 6-4 yesterday Dokic was in tears as she talked about her family problems. "I went through hell and back," she said. "I pretty much lost my family. I had no one there. I was really struggling. I battled severe depression for about two years. I didn't play for months at a time."

All the big-name players in action came through their opening matches unscathed. Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic brushed aside the Italians Andreas Seppi and Andrea Stoppini respectively, while Jelena Jankovic and Ana Ivanovic beat Yvonne Meusburger and Julia Goerges.

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