Australian Open: British duo Kyle Edmund and Heather Watson frustrated to falter at first hurdle
A new season that had started promisingly for Kyle Edmund and Heather Watson ground to a disappointing halt on the first day of the Australian Open.
Both Britons had been given first-round draws that offered the realistic prospect of victory but both lost after gruelling contests in intense heat.
After Edmund had been beaten 1-6 7-6 4-6 6-3 6-1 by Damir Dzumhur in the heat of the day, when the temperature was around 32C, Watson was kept on court for more than two and three-quarter hours in the early evening before going down 6-7 7-5 7-5 against Hungary's Timea Babos, the World No.60.
Edmund, who began his 2016 campaign by reaching the quarter-finals of the Qatar Open, played some excellent tennis at the start, thumping a steady flow of winners past his Bosnian opponent, but towards the end of the third set the 21-year-old started suffering from cramp.
The World No.88, who was playing in the main draw of a Grand Slam tournament by dint of his world ranking for the first time, had exactly the same problem in his last five-set match two months ago.
Edmund led David Goffin by two sets to love in the opening rubber of Britain's Davis Cup final against Belgium in Ghent before succumbing to cramp and losing the next three sets.
Dzumhur, who is ranked seven places higher than Edmund, lasted the pace much better and was well on top by the end.
"I'm happy that I won against such a good player," he said afterwards. "Kyle has such a good game."
Edmund was clearly frustrated by his physical troubles.
"I just started cramping in the third set," he said. "It started coming on more and more, getting more painful as the match progressed. It hindered my movement and made things more difficult, which was obviously frustrating.
"I was not able to play 100 per cent, but there's not much I was able to do. I've just got to learn from it, source the problem and make sure it does not happen again.
"I probably need to play more five-set matches but you can only play them when they come round. It was the same situation I felt in Davis Cup where I couldn't do anything. To beat these guys you have to be 100 per cent. You can't play with your body cramping."
Watson, who won two matches at the Hopman Cup in the first week of the season and two more at last week's Hobart tournament, also suffered with a physical problem. "I came into the tournament with an abdominal strain but I had been getting it taped through Hobart and the Hopman Cup," the British No.2 said after her third successive first-round defeat at Melbourne Park.
It was a close match throughout, though Watson clearly had the upper hand towards the end of the second set.
The 23-year-old from Guernsey, who won the first three games, had taken the first set by claiming the tie-break 7-4 after winning five of the last six points.
Having broken at 4-4 in the second set, Watson served for the match, only to lose the next three games in a row. Babos levelled the contest when Watson made a mess of a smash on set point at 5-6.
The deciding set was a tense affair. Watson, who has made the second round here on only one occasion, ended a run of four successive breaks of serve to level at 5-5 but was broken again when she served to stay in the match for a second time at 5-6 and Babos sent down a backhand winner to seal victory.
Watson, who has been coached on an interim basis by Judy Murray this month following her split with Diego Veronelli, admitted that she had tightened up when the winning tape approached against an opponent who had yet to taste victory in the Australian Open.
"I'm very disappointed with the outcome, but mostly with how I played. I'm not pleased I didn't serve it out. It just wasn't great," she said.
"As soon as it got important in that 5-4 game, I felt myself get tense and when I needed my serve I couldn't reach up and hit it.
"Timea was the aggressor and I felt I took a step back and didn't go for it. She played the important points a lot better than I did and that, at the end of the day, was what decided the match."