Perhaps yesterday may turn out to be not just the nadir, but the turning point. Admittedly Anne Keothavong, in squandering a 4-0 lead in the deciding set against Anastasia Rodionova, seemed to reiterate a lack of fortitude and depth in British tennis.
But her dignity and sense of perspective, not least compared with last year, by no means offered the only way to temper contemptuous generalisations about the state of the domestic game.
There was also, it is only fair to say, a most encouraging debut in the main draw from Heather Watson, whose dynamism, pluck and wit provided Romina Sarina Oprandi with a really searching examination before she ultimately succumbed 6-4, 1-6, 6-3. Watson, having soared nearly 100 places in the rankings at Eastbourne last week, confirmed that Laura Robson may not have to develop her career in the same solitude as Andy Murray. Like Robson, Watson has a junior Grand Slam to her name – at Flushing Meadows last year – and even in defeat both have provided some kind of silver lining to Britain's worst-ever start to the tournament.
But the dark clouds were unmistakably condensed in Keothavong's latest Wimbledon humiliation. Somehow she contrived a still more excruciating defeat than the one that prompted a lachrymose departure from her press conference last year. This time, she reserved the choking for the court.
She has now won just twice in 10 appearances here, but reminded critics that she had only recently returned from a second, career-threatening knee operation. "I'm just grateful for being able to do a job I love, that I'm fit and healthy," she said. "Six months ago, I was limping around still. I was working so hard – I was learning to walk properly again."
Nor, equally, did she try to exculpate herself. After exchanging two error-strewn sets, Keothavong had a volatile and vexatious opponent on the ropes. But after Rodionova recovered to 4-3, there was no escaping a sense that a brutally attritional eighth game would prove decisive. For 16 minutes, every anguished point was hammered out like an ingot in the heat of Court 12, the partisan crowd rallying to stem Keothavong's loss of belief. She clawed back half a dozen break points, but the seventh rolled off the net cord into her court and that was that. She forlornly surrendered the last two games and made herself scarce, even as the umpire read a score of 3-6, 6-2, 6-4.
While her Australian opponent had ultimately restored a gulf in class, Keothavong did not dissemble. "I think nerves just got the better of me," she said. "I really fought my heart out. [But] she held her nerve better than I did. No one's to blame apart from myself. But there are 64 other players in the same boat as me. I don't think I'll be the only one shedding a few tears."
The wild card, Jamie Baker, followed Keothavong onto the same court but went down in straight sets, 7-6, 6-3, 6-4, to Andreas Beck.Reuse content