But for the tenacity of Harriet Dart, Britain’s participation in the Australian Open would have been all but over by close of play in Melbourne.
The world No 173 was the only survivor after the grimmest of days for the British contingent. Five took to the courts in hope and expectation but, in no time, the tone had been set.
Jo Konta looked like a woman who had played just one match in nearly five months as she lost to Ons Jabeur, Cam Norrie lost a match he had on his racket strings, going down in five sets to Pierre Hugues Herbert, Katie Boulter was outplayed, as expected, by Elina Svitolina and Kyle Edmund simply lost to a much better player on the day as he was brushed aside by Dusan Lajovic.
Dart, the 23-year-old from London, kept the spectators on the edge of their seats until the very last ball as she held match points, lost match points, went on to slump to a 5-1 deficit in the tiebreak and then clawed her way back to beat Misaki Doi 2-6, 6-4, 7-6.
“I’m just really proud of the way I was able to stay composed and get over the line in the end,” she said. “It was definitely tricky at 6-5 having match points, keeping it together. She stepped it up, I thought, at the start of the tiebreak and I was just really proud of myself to fight back and compete.”
Her reward for such heroics is an appointment with Simona Halep, the former world No 1, Wimbledon champion and the 2018 Australian Open finalist. No pressure, there, then.
“She’s a great champion,” Dart said, “and it’s a great opportunity for me to see where my level is at. Whatever court we play on, it’s probably going to be a big court because she’s a big name.
“The occasion might be a bit different but, at the end of the day, it’s just another tennis match.”
The biggest disappointment of the day, though, was Norrie’s 7-5, 3-6, 3-6, 7-5, 6-4 defeat to Herbert of France. The Scot was in charge of the match, he had the result on his racket in the fourth set and then, inexplicably, let the Frenchman wrench back control and head for the second round.
“It was tough,” he said. “I was in complete control of the match and then he actually played good and I was disappointed. I think I lost a little bit of focus.
“I kind of gave him the break in the fifth, then I broke back and then a couple of errors and I gave it to him again. There’s a lot to learn from it.”
As for Konta and Edmund, they both seemed relatively cheerful despite their losses. For Konta, who had played only one match since the US Open due to a nagging knee problem, was not expecting great things of herself.
She knew she would be ring rusty (and she was) but the positive spin on the day’s efforts was that her knee had felt fine through out the 6-4, 6-2 roughing up she took from Jabeur.
“It’s always difficult to come back after not playing a certain amount of time,” Konta said. “But what was good today was my knee felt quite good, and it was actually even better than Brisbane.
“That’s a very positive thing for me, especially for where I was in September [after the US Open]. So, yeah, definitely that’s a big positive, and something that I’m very pleased about moving forward.”
Edmund, too, sounded sad about his defeat but happy with his lot. True, he lost to Lajovic 7-6, 6-3, 7-6 but the Serb had to play extremely well to win and Edmund was playing far better than he had been for large swathes of last year. It was a loss but it was not a bad loss.
“I just found that he was being a bit more pro-active than me with the points and the set-up,” Edmund said.
“I found I was reacting a little bit to his play. And I thought I did my best but I was just second best today.”