Harriet Dart sharper ahead of latest test against Simona Halep

To the uninitiated, it looks like the biggest match of Harriet Dart’s fledgling career.

Harriet Dart in action in her first-round win over Misaki Doi. Picture: Mark Kolbe/Getty

The world No 173 will take on current Wimbledon and former French Open champion and former world No 1 Simona Halep in the Australian Open second round.

In reality, it is another one of those potentially life-changing or potentially soul-destroying moments that have punctuated Dart’s progress of late.

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A year ago, she came to Melbourne and forced her way through the qualifying competition only to be thrashed by Maria Sharapova in the first round proper. Dart did not win a game. Six months later, she was given a wild card to the Wimbledon main draw and worked her way through to the third round only to be overwhelmed by Ash Barty. Dart won two games.

Dart, then, is used to facing big names on big stages and being shown exactly where she stands in the general scheme of things. But, even if she is a little defensive about those two big matches of last year, at 23 she is still young enough to see today’s match with Halep as a huge opportunity rather than running a huge risk of getting duffed up again.

“I earned my place both times where I played them [Sharapova and Barty],” Dart said. “It’s very easy for people to judge you on one match. Equally I understand that I am in the spotlight, I am playing in the big arenas, against big players. I mean you guys should try it sometimes – playing on the big arena!

“Again, I have qualified and won a round here. That gives me extra confidence. It’s an exciting opportunity to see where my level is at. Physically
I am in a much better place. Thank you for my trainer for helping me. He beats me in the gym all off-season. Definitely I am recovering better and able to deal with the weight of shots, the back-to-back matches. I am happy with that.

“I have come a lot since last year. I had a really good off-season, I feel a lot physically stronger, and that is helping me in my matches.”

It is hardly a surprise that Dart and Halep have never met before on a tennis court, such is the gap between them in experience and success. But Halep does know who Dart is and she is fully aware of the dangers posed by young players with nothing to lose. Yes, she is the out-and-out favourite for today’s match but that does not make life any easier.

“As a top player, it’s an advantage and not that much an advantage,” Halep said, “because everyone wants to get you. But if you think about that, you don’t have time to think about yourself.

“I will try to focus on my game, to play what I want against her, and then we 
will see.”

Meanwhile, Dan Evans was blown away by the Melbourne wind and an ultra-consistent opponent as he lost 6-4, 6-3, 6-4 to Yoshihito Nishioka of Japan in the second round.

“When it was windy like that, I knew exactly how he would play,” Evans said afterwards.

“I couldn’t break him. I didn’t play great, but all credit to him, he played pretty good.

“Some days you look forward to matches and I didn’t look forward to it. I just find him overly awkward. All credit to him, he made it literally as awkward as possible. I had two big chances in the third and I didn’t take them. He took his. And I thought he returned pretty good considering the conditions.”

But despite the loss, Evans has had a good and profitable trip to Australia. He has won six of his nine matches this year, he has banked more than £250,000 and he has reached a career-high ranking of No 32. Yesterday could have gone better – much better – but the first month of the season has been not half bad.

“I can only look back 
and be happy with what a start to the year it was,” he added.

“Today was a difficult day. But I ‘ve got to look back at a lot of points and good moves up the rankings.”