HEATHER WATSON and Johanna Konta posted victories in Australian Open qualifying but there was disappointment for fellow British player Dan Evans.
Watson overcame nerves to defeat Australian Arina Rodionova 6-4 6-3 in the first round, while Konta was particularly impressive in a 6-2 6-1 victory over Grace Min of the USA.
Evans was the only British man to win his first-round match in qualifying and hopes were high that he could repeat his US Open heroics, which saw him go all the way to the third round of the main draw.
But the 23-year-old was beaten 6-4 6-1 in his second preliminary match by Hungary’s Marton Fucsovics, the 2010 Wimbledon boys’ champion.
Fucsovics is 33 places behind 149th-ranked Evans and had only won a single grand slam qualifying match prior to arriving in Melbourne but was rock solid.
Evans, in contrast, was well below his best, losing eight of the last nine games and receiving a warning for swearing.
Watson is playing in grand slam qualifying for the first time in 18 months after a 2013 season ruined by glandular fever saw her drop out of the top 100.
The 21-year-old will meet France’s Stephanie Foretz Gacon, whom she beat at the French Open in 2011, and needs two more wins to reach the main draw.
Watson reached the third round in the main draw last year, and the former world No 39 said: “I was very nervous. I feel like in the middle I loosened up but my energy really dropped at the end because I think all the nervous energy had worn me out.
“But I was able to close it out. I played quite well, I definitely can play better, and I think I’ll play a lot freer in my next match. I don’t know why I was so nervous, it’s a while since I played in qualifying and I expect myself to do well and go far. I really like the tournament and play well on these courts so I think I’m putting too much pressure on myself.”
Watson was already feeling the effects of glandular fever at the Australian Open last year before it was eventually diagnosed in March.
She came back after two months but later conceded that was too soon and she struggled until her final couple of tournaments in 2013.
By that stage, her ranking had plummeted outside the top 120, but the signs have been positive so far this season, with Watson qualifying for the tournament in Brisbane last week.
She said: “I feel like I’m playing the best that I have the last couple of weeks, especially in practice. I had six singles matches before this tournament so that’s what I wanted.”
Watson also has a new coach, Argentinian Diego Veronelli, and she is happy with how the partnership is progressing.
“It’s going very well with Diego,” she said.
“I’ve learned a lot already, we’re adding different things to my game and most importantly we’re getting on very well.”
Konta, who plays Ukraine’s Olga Savchuk in the second round, is ranked seven places above Watson and only narrowly missed out on direct entry to the main draw in Melbourne.
The 22-year-old grew up in Australia before moving to Britain aged 14 and she looked right at home, winning 10 of the final 11 games with some big serving and fierce groundstrokes.
British No 4 Tara Moore did not fare so well, the 21-year-old losing 6-0 7-5 to Japan’s Erika Sema.
David Ferrer closed in on a fourth successive title at the Heineken Open in Auckland with victory over fellow Spaniard Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in the quarter-finals.
The top seed did not have things all his own way, though, surviving a three-set tussle to win 6-3 5-7 6-4 - his 14th straight victory at the tournament.
Ferrer said: “It was a very tough match with a lot of rallies and long points. But I feel good. I played better than last night and I’m happy because I’m in the semi-finals.”