O'Brien fails to live up to billing on new stage

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The Independent Online

Whatever green shoots might be perceived elsewhere, the first use of the new show court here yesterday proved mournfully consistent with the British sport's exorbitant dependence, for the time being, on Andrew Murray.

You might ask quite how fair it was, whether on the player or the patriots in the stands, to ask Katie O'Brien to step out onto Court No 3 straight after its official opening by the Duke of Kent. One of several contentious wild cards in the home cause, O'Brien had managed one second-round appearance in seven previous attempts here. She was, moreover, onto something of a hiding to nothing against Kimiko Date-Krumm. O'Brien is 25, apparently going nowhere fast; but her opponent was the oldest in the draw, at 40 years and 277 days, and only ended a 12-year retirement in 2008.

And, excruciatingly, the Japanese veteran required just 17 minutes to win the first set. Though O'Brien restored her self-respect with a courageous rally to 5-5 in the second, Date-Krumm won the next two games to win before play had even started on Centre Court.

The bounce proved a little low, admittedly, but O'Brien looked terribly fragile on her service in the first set. Broken in the very first game, with a double fault, she did the same on the second of two break points in the third, and yet another double fault gave Date-Krumm three break points in the fifth. She needed just one, grinding O'Brien under her heel with a cheeky slice at the net. As O'Brien herself would put it later, Date-Krumm "was just making mincemeat" of her serve.

O'Brien did well to get back into the match from 3-5 in the second set, saving a match point in the process. Overall, however, the prospect of her progressing to meet Venus Williams next could only have gratified sadists.

"The first set went by in a flash," O'Brien admitted. "She played pretty much flawlessly. So I just fought my hardest. I did really well to get back to 5-5. I started to have the crowd behind me and was getting more confident. Had it gone to a third, I would have had chances."

If that was clutching at straws, O'Brien otherwise addressed her situation with honesty and dignity. "I sacrificed so many things to get to where I was, in the top 100," she reflected. "Then suddenly you step up a few levels, and you're losing more matches than you're winning. That hurts your confidence. A year or so ago I was seriously considering stepping away from the game. But in the end tennis is my passion, so that would be really hard for me to do. I'm the one that chose to pursue this career, so I've got to accept the lows with the highs."

At least one British woman is guaranteed a place in the second round, though the meeting of Naomi Broady and Anne Keothavong was delayed by rain.