April 23, 2021

Australian Open 2021: Heather Watson and Cam Norrie are the last Brits standing

4 min read

Dan Evans felt like an ageing footballer, Jo Konta suffered an unusual injury, Heather Watson believed she could take on the world.

The differing fortunes of Britain’s leading players at the Australian Open reflected the highly unusual build-up to the season’s first Grand Slam, which manifested itself in some unpredictable outcomes.

Varied levels of quarantine, and unexpected workloads the week before, made it a strange opening couple of days for many players as they tried to avoid the early cull.

Heather Watson was one of just two successes for Britain in the first-round in Melbourne

Heather Watson was one of just two successes for Britain in the first-round in Melbourne

Heather Watson was one of just two successes for Britain in the first-round in Melbourne

Two GB singles players out of six were left after the initial skirmishes. Having being locked in a hotel room for 15 days after arriving, Watson will face the No 21 seed Anett Kontaveit. Cam Norrie’s reward for knocking out Evans is a second round against Russian qualifier Roman Safiullin.

Everyone had their own story to tell. In the case of Watson – who beat Czech Krystyna Pliskova 7-6, 7-6 – coping with a full lockdown, for part of which she passed the time making innovative social media videos, has bolstered her inner belief.

‘It made the victory today sweeter because we’d been through a lot the last few weeks. It was really tough mentally,’ she said.

‘Physically I felt like I did a pretty good job in hard quarantine of working out pretty much every day and trying to keep up my fitness. I felt my body change a bit. I definitely lost some fitness, but mentally I felt super strong because I’d got through it.’

Konta, easily Britain’s highest ranked player at No 15, was among those allowed out for limited daily training, but she was at a loss to explain why she had suddenly pulled a stomach muscle.

That caused her to withdraw from her first round against Slovenia’s Kaja Juvan when she was leading 6-4, 0-2. She had received extensive treatment after struggling to serve. 

Jo Konta was reduced to tears as she was forced to retire after pulling a stomach muscle

Jo Konta was reduced to tears as she was forced to retire after pulling a stomach muscle

Jo Konta was reduced to tears as she was forced to retire after pulling a stomach muscle

Admitting she was ‘in a state of shock’ afterwards she said, ‘I don’t have answers for you as to why this happened. I haven’t had an abdominal issue in a very, very long time.’

She was left waiting to see what the extent of the damage was before planning her next move. 

The injury might have been connected to the restrictions of the unusual lead-in, yet she was reluctant to join the complaints of some other players.

‘We can’t spend all of our lives training only and not being able to compete, so the fact that we’ve had the opportunity, I know everyone is very grateful for that. Compared to before March 2020, yes, it’s strange, but post-March 2020 this feels quite normal, to be honest.’

Evans’s challenges were different again. He triumphantly won his first ATP Tour final on Sunday before immediately having to turn his attention to facing the awkward lefthanded game of Norrie.

Dan Evans looked unusually flat after his exertions in winning a first ATP Tour final last week

Dan Evans looked unusually flat after his exertions in winning a first ATP Tour final last week

Dan Evans looked unusually flat after his exertions in winning a first ATP Tour final last week

The British No 3 prevailed 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, 7-5, with Evans looking unusually flat after last week’s exertions. 

At one point he started talking to his support bench, peculiarly comparing himself to the late career demise of Gavin McCann, former midfielder of the team he supports, Aston Villa: ‘My legs have gone,’ he told them.

He has not played a Grand Slam with such preparation before, and once again was left disappointed with his performance at a Major, compared to the regular tour.

Later he explained further: ‘After Sunday, I just felt pretty flat ever since really. I didn’t practice great yesterday. 

‘Mentally, I tried as hard as I could to let that go. But it was difficult.

Evans was beaten by compatriot Cam Norrie, who now faces Russian qualifier Roman Safiullin

Evans was beaten by compatriot Cam Norrie, who now faces Russian qualifier Roman Safiullin

Evans was beaten by compatriot Cam Norrie, who now faces Russian qualifier Roman Safiullin

‘He (Norrrie) lost first round last week, got shed-loads of practice in and could dictate his own days, and I didn’t get that chance. Granted, I won last week, but it doesn’t feel that good now.

‘I want to do well in the Grand Slams, and with due respect to last week’s tournament, no one is going to remember I won that in three weeks’ time.’

Francesca Jones will return to the grind of the lower circuit levels after going down 6-4, 6-1 to the experienced American Shelby Rogers. She departs with a month of hugely valuable education and her profile boosted, plus £56,000 prize money.

The specially boosted early round purses will be a consolation to all those left somewhat perplexed by their Australian Open experience.

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