There are no British singles representatives in the third round of the Australian Open for the second straight year after defeats for Heather Watson and Harriet Dart.
Watson was disappointed with her performance in a 6-3 6-0 defeat by 16th seed Elise Mertens that lasted only 56 minutes, while Dart could feel much more positive about her display in a 6-2 6-4 loss to Wimbledon champion Simona Halep. But the bare facts show that seven British players produced only three main draw wins between them and, of the trio who reached the second round, none won a set.
Dart had the toughest task and performed the best, laying to rest the ghosts of 12 months ago, when she failed to win a game against Maria Sharapova.
At 6-2 5-1 another heavy defeat was on the cards but Dart dug in extremely well and produced some fine tennis, troubling Halep with her backhand in particular.
“It was always going to be a difficult match,” said Dart. “ In the last 20 minutes I upped my level, and I will be taking those positives for the rest of the year.
“I started to be more aggressive, winning more points, getting more errors from her. There’s definitely progress, it’s been a great week for me.
I started to be more aggressive, winning more points, getting more errors from her. There’s definitely progress, it’s been a great week for me.Harriet Dart
“All of us expect a lot from ourselves. We are competing in a grand slam. There are no easy matches, we are playing against the highest-level players in the world, and it’s incredibly tough.”
Watson had claimed her best win for two-and-a-half years by beating Mertens in the quarter-finals of the Hobart International last week but she could not find the same level, winning just eight points in the second set.
“I felt my level wasn’t there today,” said Watson. “My movement. I was a millimetre or a second too slow to everything. I was letting her dictate.”
Elsewhere, it was a good day for second seed Karolina Pliskova beating Laura Siegemund 6-3 6-3.
Sixth seed Belinda Bencic staged a second-set comeback to beat Jelena Ostapenko 7-5 7-5 and there were also wins for former champion Angelique Kerber and Garbine Muguruza.
In the men’s draw, Rafael Nadal stayed on course for a clash with Australia’s Nick Kyrgios after battling to a 6-3 7-6 (4) 6-1 victory over Argentina’s Federico Delbonis.
Kyrgios beat Gilles Simon 6-2 6-4 4-6 7-5, while fourth seed Daniil Medvedev was a comfortable 7-5 6-1 6-3 winner against Pedro Martinez.