Watson suffers narrow defeat

  • Last Updated: January 13 2014, 7:19 GMT

A battling performance from Heather Watson was not enough to prevent the British number three going out of the Australian Open in the first round to 31st seed Daniela Hantuchova.

Heather Watson en route to a three-set defeat at the Australian Open on Monday
Heather Watson en route to a three-set defeat at the Australian Open on Monday

Watson fought back from losing a first set she might have won to level the match but Hantuchova survived a tense decider to win 7-5 3-6 6-3.

The 21-year-old's defeat coupled with a swift loss for Laura Robson to Kirsten Flipkens means less than three hours into the tournament, Andy Murray was the only British singles player left.

There were plenty of positives for Watson, though, who appears to have recovered from the glandular fever that wrecked her 2013 season and sent her plummeting well outside the top 100.

That meant she had to qualify in Melbourne, which she managed with relative comfort, not dropping a set in three matches.

Most importantly a big smile was back on the face of one of the sunniest characters in tennis.

She said after her final qualifying match on Saturday, a tense win over America's Irina Falconi, that her experiences of last year had made her more professional, determined never to take anything for granted.

And she was true to her word against Hantuchova, a former top-five player but now one of the tour's elder stateswomen at 30, but came up just short in a match lasting more than two and a half hours.

Watson said: "I feel like it's an opportunity lost. I really looked forward to this draw, I thought it was a good draw for me.

"But I've played 10 matches this year already and if you had told me that last year I would have taken it in a second.

"Even though I might be dropping in the rankings, I'm not worried about that. I've had a good start to the year, I've improved as a player and it's been a positive few weeks.''

After fighting back from a break down, Watson was twice two points away from winning the first set but a costly double fault to be broken at 5-5 handed the initiative to Hantuchova.

The British number three took the second after getting the better of three successive breaks but could not quite recover from trailing 4-1 in the decider.

She said: "I felt I was close throughout the whole match. I had chances in the first set and wasn't able to take them, chances in the second and took them.

"I started slow in the third. I should have got up while she went to the bathroom and kept moving.

"I had plenty of chances and didn't take them but as long as I keep creating opportunities for myself, that's a good thing. I tried my best with what I had today.''

Having reached the third round in Melbourne 12 months ago, Watson's ranking will now slip below 150 and she will now have to play some tournaments on the second-tier ITF circuit.

However, she said: "Sometimes it's a good thing playing a bit lower down, winning matches and gaining confidence, and I think that's what I need.

"This was the main thing I had to defend so I've pretty much got nothing now.''

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