Belfast Telegraph

Nightmare day for British tennis players Australian Open

By Jon Fisher

British tennis' big day in Melbourne turned into a nightmare as Laura Robson, Elena Baltacha and Anne Keothavong followed Jamie Ward and Heather Watson in losing on the opening day of the Australian Open.

With six players in the main draws - a 20-year record for an overseas grand slam - there was optimism that some long overdue success was on the horizon.



But it failed to materialise as Watson, Ward, Baltacha, Robson and Keothavong all made swift exits. Indeed, not one of the five even managed to win a set.



Robson, at just 17 years of age, is considered Britain's brightest female hope but she was outclassed by the 13th-seeded Serbian Jelena Jankovic, who won 6-2 6-0 in just one hour and nine minutes.



The left-hander looked ill at ease from the off on Margaret Court Arena after dropping her opening service game.



She had three chances to hit back at 3-2 behind but once they went - the first after an ace from Jankovic which was only confirmed as in via Hawk-Eye, the match swiftly followed, with the second set a procession as Robson sprayed the ball around seemingly with little gameplan.



Baltacha departed shortly before Robson after losing to the lower-ranked Frenchwoman Stephanie Foretz Gacon 6-2 6-4.



The Scot, Britain's leading female player, paid for an awful start when she fell 4-0 behind and was unable to haul it back.



She at least found her range in the second set, trading blows with the 30-year-old, who at 107 in the world is 53 places lower than Baltacha, but lost her nerve when serving at 4-4.



Foretz Gacon squandered six break points but broke through on the seventh and duly served it out to advance in one hour and 30 minutes.



And the misery continued as the fifth Briton in action today, Keothavong, retired from her match against Germany's Mona Barthel after dropping the first set 6-0.



The opening-day gloom meant British tennis fans were once again in the familiar position of having to rely on Andy Murray, with the world number four due to open his campaign against American Ryan Harrison tomorrow.



The tournament had started badly for Britain when Watson was thrashed by Victoria Azarenka.



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



Although Watson started well by winning the opening game on Rod Laver Arena she was then steamrollered as the Belarusian, who claimed a title in Sydney last week and is among the favourites here, won the next 12 to secure an emphatic 6-1 6-0 victory in just one hour and seven minutes.



Afterwards Watson admitted 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."

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