Robson wilts and Watson also exits after fight

Laura RobsonLaura Robson
Laura Robson
It took less than three hours of play at the Australian Open to leave Andy Murray as Britain’s sole singles representative after Laura Robson and Heather Watson both suffered first-round defeats.

British No 1 Robson endured the ignominy of being the first player knocked out of the tournament with a crushing 6-3 6-0 loss to 18th seed Kirsten Flipkens.

Watson fared considerably better, putting in an impressive performance against 31st seed Daniela Hantuchova before going down 7-5 3-6 6-3.

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The 21-year-old had to fight her way through qualifying in Melbourne after a 2013 season ruined by glandular fever that sent her plummeting outside the top 100.

She will drop further from her current ranking of 121 to below 150 because of her run to the third round here last year, but she won only eight more tour-level matches in the whole of 2013 so has very few points to defend.

Watson said: “I feel like it’s an opportunity lost. I really looked forward to this draw, I thought it was a good draw for me.

“But I’ve played 10 matches this year already and if you had told me that last year, I would have taken it in a second.

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“Even though I might be dropping in the rankings, I’m not worried about that. I’ve had a good start to the year, I’ve improved as a player and it’s been a positive few weeks.”

After fighting back from a break down, Watson was twice two points away from winning the first set but a costly double fault to be broken at 5-5 handed the initiative to Hantuchova.

The British No 3 took the second after getting the better of three successive breaks but could not quite recover from trailing 4-1 in the decider.

She said: “I felt I was close throughout the whole match. I had chances in the first set and wasn’t able to take them, (had) chances in the second and took them. I started slow in the third. I should have got up while she went to the bathroom and kept moving.

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“I had plenty of chances and didn’t take them but as long as I keep creating opportunities for myself, that’s a good thing. I tried my best with what I had.”

There were far fewer positives for Robson to take following her 50-minute beating.

The 19-year-old had not completed a match this season prior to arriving in Melbourne because of a left wrist injury and looked horribly rusty.

She had plenty of support on Court Three and there were loud cheers when Australian-born Robson finally won a point at the 10th time of asking.

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She seemed to find her feet in the middle of the set against Belgian Flipkens, who was a surprise Wimbledon semi-finalist last year, with three service holds in a row.

But the errors flowed increasingly from her racquet as she lost the last eight games.

Robson said: “It took me a couple of games to actually win a point so it couldn’t really have got any worse.

“But it was up and down the whole time, and I don’t think I ever really got into a rhythm at all. I wasn’t really able to deal with her slice that well. It just didn’t go well. The support was great. It’s amazing how many people turned up. I’m just sorry I didn’t play better for them.”

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Robson was coy about the state of her wrist, saying: “I prefer not to talk about my wrist because then it’s just going to become this massive excuse and what-not. Really, she just played better than me.”

Both players are hoping to play next at the WTA Tour event in Paris, although Watson’s ranking means she may not get in, before teaming up to represent Britain at Fed Cup.

Robson is hoping another two weeks of training will help her get closer to her best form.

She said: “Definitely it motivates you to do better and be as fit as possible, and that’s what I’ll do in the next couple of weeks. Whether that’s going to be in Florida or London, I’m not sure yet. It’s a tough one, but everyone has those kind of days, and you have to just come back from them stronger.”

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Watson will have to play some tournaments on the second-tier ITF circuit because of her ranking, but she said: “Sometimes it’s a good thing playing a bit lower down, winning matches and gaining confidence, and I think that’s what I need.This was the main thing I had to defend so I’ve got nothing now.”

Serena Williams ruthlessly dispatched teenager Ashleigh Barty but Venus Williams and Petra Kvitova were both sent packing on the opening day.

Facing the world No 1 was a daunting assignment for 17-year-old Australian wild card Barty and, not surprisingly, she could offer little resistance as Williams eased to a 6-2 6-1 victory inside an hour. Venus led 3-0 in the deciding set against Ekaterina Makaraova but lost 6-2 4-6 4-6 while the shock of the day was undoubtedly former Wimbledon champion Kvitova’s 2-6 6-1 4-6 defeat by little-known Thai Luksika Kumkhum.