Nightmare for British tennis following mass exit from Australian Open


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The Independent Online

Laura Robson made an attempt to play down the significance of five defeats out of five for British players on the opening day of the Australian Open.

After the weekend high of seeing six players make it into the main draws of an overseas grand slam for the first time in 20 years, the stage was set for some rare success down under.

But what followed was enormous anti-climax as Heather Watson, James Ward, Elena Baltacha, Robson herself and Anne Keothavong all crashed out, not winning a set between them, leaving Andy Murray in a familiar role as the sole remaining Briton.

Robson might be Britain's best up-and-coming talent but the 17-year-old was hopelessly outclassed by experienced Serbian Jelena Jankovic, going down 6-2 6-0 in a little over an hour.

As the inquest into the day's events started, Robson was adamant it was not all doom and gloom.

She said: "It just so happens that we (the Britons) played on the same day. Obviously everyone tried their best but Heather played Victoria Azarenka, who is in great form, so that was a tough draw and Anne had a virus.

"I am not trying to make excuses for us but I don't think it's a disaster."

As for her match, Robson was just about holding her own at 3-2 behind in the opening set before an alarming capitulation saw her lose the next nine games.

"She played better than me and I made way too many mistakes," Robson said. "I let her dictate the points and that's not the way I play.

"Sometimes you have bad days and today was one of them. I am disappointed but there are a lot of things I can learn from this."

Robson denied her rainbow hairband was part of a Facebook-inspired protest against Margaret Court - she played on the court named after the 24-time major winner, now a pastor, who caused outrage with her recent outspoken attack on same-sex marriages.

Robson said: "I didn't see anything about a protest but I wore it because I believe in equal rights for everyone."

Baltacha's defeat was arguably the biggest disappointment of the day.

At 54th in the world, the Scot is Britain's leading female player and ranked 53 places higher than today's opponent Stephanie Foretz Gacon.

That did not prevent the Frenchwoman from cruising to a 6-2 6-4 success.

Struggling to hold back the tears afterwards, Baltacha admitted she had underperformed.

"All the prep went really well but today for whatever reason I just could not get into the match at all," she said.

"The second set was better but I didn't feel comfortable. It is very frustrating, just one of those days."

As for the collective failure, Baltacha added: "I think everyone is disappointed but it's the third week of the year, it's just the start.

"It's been hard for all of us but that's tennis."

Keothavong at least had the excuse of a virus which led to her retirement against doubles partner Mona Barthel after losing the first set 6-0.

"I was absolutely fine until yesterday but then I had a high temperature and dodgy stomach," Keothavong said.

Britain was represented in the opening match on the main show court - Rod Laver Arena - but not for long as Watson was crushed by third seed Azarenka.

The 19-year-old from Guernsey was perhaps expected to struggle against the Belarusian but the one-sided nature of the contest did little to enhance her reputation.

Although she started well by winning the opening game she was then steamrollered as Azarenka, who won the Apia International tournament in Sydney last week and is among the favourites here, won the next 12 to secure an emphatic 6-1 6-0 victory in one hour and seven minutes.

Afterwards Watson conceded she had not done herself justice.

She said: "I played a few good points here and there but I wasn't playing consistently enough. Vika played great and I can't remember her missing a ball, that's why she is number three in the world. But I have to put up a bigger fight than that to get close.

"The first game was good but from there it was downhill.

"I have gained experience from this and I am not too upset because I tried my best even though I wasn't there today."

Ward had a better chance to progress but was ousted by Slovenian Blaz Kavcic, ranked 103rd in the world.

The 24-year-old Londoner, who came through qualifying to play in the main draw of a slam for the first time outside Wimbledon, was broken six times en route to a 6-4 6-3 6-4 defeat.

"It was difficult out there due to the wind but it was the same for both of us and there are no excuses, it was a tough day," Ward said afterwards.

"It's disappointing because I lost. I am not happy about losing any match but it was a good chance. It has gone and I just have to move on and look forward to the next tournament."

British fans will be hoping for, and expecting, better tomorrow when Murray, who has reached the final in each of the last two years at Melbourne Park, tackles American Ryan Harrison.