Watson knocked out in Melbourne

Heather Watson plays in the first round at the Australian Open (AP)

Heather Watson plays in the first round at the Australian Open (AP)

First published in National Sport News © by

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.

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. Watson fought back from an early break down thanks to some erratic play from her opponent and was twice within two points of taking the set only for Hantuchova to hold for 5-5.

In the next game Watson saved three break points, two of them with aces, but on the fourth a double fault proved costly and it was the Slovakian who clinched the set.

Hantuchova's extra power was certainly a factor but mostly Watson was matching her from the baseline, the improvements in her attacking game clear to see.

Her serve, too, has a lot more pop on it these days and both were in evidence as Watson got the better of three successive breaks to lead 5-3 in the second set and then hold serve.

Hantuchova piled on the pressure at the start of the third set and, although Watson fought back from 0-40 to hold for 1-1, the Slovakian won the next three games.

Watson again fought back, some fierce hitting reducing her arrears to 3-4, but she missed chances to hold serve to draw level and a forehand into the net put Hantuchova in sight of victory. And this time the 31st seed held firm, sealing the win when Watson netted another forehand after two hours and 34 minutes.

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