Tennis: Sore one for the Brits

British tennis’ big day in Melbourne started in disappointing fashion as Heather Watson and James Ward made swift exits from the Australian Open.

Five British players were due to be in action on the opening day of the season’s first grand slam, Anne Keothavong, Laura Robson and Scotland’s Elena Baltacha playing later today with world No. 4 Andy Murray scheduled to open his campaign against Ryan Harrison tomorrow.

The six-player contingent in the main draws was the largest at an overseas grand slam since 1992 but that number was reduced to four within two-and-a-half hours with Watson and Ward suffering straight-set defeats.

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Watson was perhaps expected to struggle against third seed Victoria Azarenka but the one-sided nature of the contest did little to enhance the reputation of the 19-year-old from Guernsey. Although she started well by winning the opening game on Rod Laver Arena she was then steamrollered as the Belarusian, who claimed the crown in Sydney last week, won the next 12 to secure an emphatic 6-1, 6-0 victory in just 67 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. The first game was good but from there it was downhill.

“It was going very quick and before I knew it the first set had gone, I never really got going. I have gained experience from this and I am not too upset because I tried my best.”

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Ward had a better chance to progress but was ousted by Slovenian Blaz Kavcic, ranked 103 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.

The pair traded breaks in the opener but Ward dropped his serve again in the tenth game to concede the set. Two further breaks followed in the second and in the blazing heat a comeback seemed unlikely.

Ward gave the small army of British fans on court 11 brief hope by establishing a 2-0 lead in the third set but Kavcic hit back to go 5-4 up and he held his nerve to serve it out in two hours and 17 minutes and secure a place in the second round.

“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.

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“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.”

Elsewhere in the men’s section, home hope Bernard Tomic fought back from two sets down to overpower 22nd seed Fernando Verdasco 4-6, 6-7(3), 6-4, 6-2, 7-5, while 11th seed and former US Open champion Juan Martin Del Potro ousted Adrian Mannarino 2-6, 6-1, 7-5, 6-4. Seventh seed Tomas Berdych defeated Albert Ramos 7-5, 4-6, 6-2, 6-3, eighth seed Mardy Fish cruised past Gilles Muller 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 and there were also wins for tenth seed Nicolas Almagro and 21st seed Stanislas Wawrinka. Jurgen Melzer, however, and Nikolay Davydenko, were recipients of shock defeats to Ivo Karlovic and Flavio Cipolla respectively.

Agnieska Radwanska, Na Li, Francesca Schiavone and Kim Clijsters were the main seeds from the women’s section to make it through to the second round in the day session.