Back home, everyone was still in bed. The toast and cornflakes were still hours away and yet 11,000 miles across the globe, Britain’s brave band of Australian Open hopefuls had been whittled down to just one – Andy Murray. ’Twas ever thus.
The tournament was just 50 minutes old when Laura Robson earned the dubious honour of becoming the first casualty of the tournament, thrashed 6-3, 6-0 by a combination of Kirsten Flipkens and a lack of matchplay. Her injured left wrist did not appear to be causing her too many problems but no competitive play, other than one set in Hobart last week, since September, was her undoing. Flipkens, hampered slightly by a sore right knee and a tweaked left ankle, was too good and too consistent.
By way of contrast, Robson took five minutes to get a point on the board – by which time she was 2-0 down – and save for a handful of games in the first set when she got her first serve working, she was doggedly, consistently and utterly awful throughout. This was not a good day.
“It took me a couple of games to actually win a point so it couldn’t really have gotten any worse,” Robson said. “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. I don’t know. It just didn’t go well.
“I prefer not to talk about my wrist because then it’s just going to become this massive excuse and whatnot. Really, she just played better than me.”
The result was hardly a surprise given Robson’s lack of preparation but the manner and speed of the defeat was quite startling. Flipkens simply had to stand on the court and get the ball back and a place in the second round was hers.
Heather Watson took longer and fought harder than her compatriot but she, too, could not get the better of her seeded rival. She did her best for two hours and 34 minutes but, in the end, Daniela Hantuchova, the world No.32, had that little bit more clout and experience and went through 7-5, 3-6, 6-3. Watson, though, played well enough to prove to herself and anyone watching that she is well on the road to recovery after her miserable season last year.
Finally free of the glandular fever that first felled her here 12 months ago, she motored through the three sets with, seemingly, plenty of fuel left in the tank. After spending most of last year never knowing from one day to the next whether she would have the puff to get out of bed, much less play matches, this was a decided improvement.
“I felt I was close throughout the whole match,” Watson said. “I had chances in the first set, wasn’t able to take them, chances in the second set – took them, started slow in the third. I don’t think I won a point till the eighth point. In the third set, I started slowly.
“But I had plenty of chances today – didn’t take them – but, as long as I keep creating opportunities for myself, that’s a good thing. You need to worry if you’re not creating those opportunities and I was. There were good spells in the match. At some points it was like winner-winner from each of us; at some points, it was a lot of errors but I fought through. I tried my best with what I had today but, unfortunately, I wasn’t able to take the chances that I had.”
Now coached by Diego Veronelli from Argentina, Watson is excited about the future. Her aim is to get back into the world’s top 40, where she was when the glandular fever was diagnosed and, if that means hacking around the lower leagues of the sport for a while, she is more than happy. Just playing freely again and learning new skills with Veronelli is a reward enough in itself.
“I feel like sometimes it’s a good thing playing lower down,” she said, “winning matches and getting confidence and I think that’s what I need right now is matches.
“Diego and I haven’t been working together for very long but already I’ve learned so much.
“One thing that really stands out that I wanted to add to my game was the slice and we’ve been working on that. We worked on that every single day during the off-season. I haven’t used it a lot because it takes time to add to your game but I’ve used it a few times in my matches and it’s really happened. And, off the court, we get along really well, he’s so easy to get along with. And he’s very ambitious as well.”