Both Heather Watson and Harriet Dart were eliminated from the Australian Open and with them any interest from a British point of view came to an end.
As the match went on, she played better and was more aggressive. I am just not happy with my performance at all Heather Watson
Watson and Dart both suffered disappointing second-round exits to follow fellow the previous day’s losses of fellow Brits Johanna Konta, Katie Boulter, Dan Evans, Kyle Edmund and Cameron Norrie.
For the British No 2 Watson, ranked 75, the defeat was more disappointing as she had a week earlier, defeated Elise Mertens, the world No. 17, in her run to the Hobart final, while Dart, a qualifier and still finding her feet at the top level, put up a credible and plucky performance against last year’s finalist and former world No.1 Simona Halep.
Watson, in view of her Hobart success, was full of confidence which was evident in her battle to get past Kristyna Pliskova in what were extremely windy conditions in the opening round yesterday.
That form was not evident during her second round match as she was quickly shown the exit door by the Belgian 16th seed after just 56-minutes, 6-3 6-0.
Watson was as disappointed in her performance as were all her supporters.
“I felt my level wasn’t there today,” she said. “My movement. I was a millimetre or a second too slow to everything. I was letting her dictate.
“As the match went on, she played better and was more aggressive. I am just not happy with my performance at all.”
But despite her loss she leaves Melbourne relatively happy.
“I remember last year this time I would have be happy to win a single match!
“The fact I have played so many here in Australia, feeling good, in good spirits. I wish I didn’t lose the way I lost. I wish at least I got closer in the score. It happens. Now I will go home.”
Dart opened the evening proceedings on Rod Laver Arena against the Romanian No.1, Halep and may have been concerned that the last time she walked out on that court she faced Maria Sharapova and went down without winning a game.
This time she avoided that humiliation but from the opening moments it was evident that Halep had the superior fire power and accuracy to make light work of the British qualifier but after settling down she showed all concerned that she wasn’t there to make up the numbers.
Trailing 6-2 5-1, Dart lost her inhibitions and fought back, saving a match point, and came close to levelling. Halep then regrouped and despite losing a couple more match points eventually closed it out 6-2 6-4.
Thanks to her three victories in qualifying and one in the main draw, Dart’s ranking is now expected to rise from 173 to 141, and her next outing could well be in Britain’s Fed Cup play-off against Slovakia in two weeks’ time.
Speaking on court, Wimbledon champion Halep said: “It was a little bit dangerous. I lost the focus a little bit, but she started to play very well. I’m happy I went through it.
“It’s tough to play against someone you have not played before. She doesn’t have that much power, but she is very smart on court, and I had to step in more. I think I played too far back today.”
Dart, wo no doubt will have benefited from the experience, said: “It was always going to be a difficult match. In the last 20 minutes I upped my level, and I will be taking those positives for the rest of the year.”