by Craig Vickers
Dan Evans and Katie Boulter sweetened an otherwise bitter day for British hopes at the Australian Open, as five Brits tasted defeat in the first round in Melbourne this morning.
Evans, playing in his first Grand Slam main draw match since he returned from a drugs ban, dispatched Japanese qualifier Tatsuma Ito in straight sets.
Boulter, meanwhile, made history by becoming the first singles player to win the newly introduced match tie-break at the Australian Open in a three-set victory over the world number 60 Ekaterina Makarova.
However, those hoping for a British clean sweep in Melbourne will have been left short changed as Kyle Edmund, Harriet Dart, Cameron Norrie, Heather Watson and Andy Murray fell to defeat.
Boulter, Britain’s number two ranked on the WTA circuit, was pegged back by the Russian after taking the first set to love before flexing her muscle in the match tie-break.
The 22-year-old has been on an upward trajectory since scoring her first Grand Slam victory at Wimbledon last year and Cathy Wilson, who has followed her progress since the junior days, believes she will begin to find consistency at the Grand Slams this year.
She says: “She has scored some good wins in her career already, like against [Veronica] Cepede Royg at Wimbledon last year, so she is capable of keeping a cool head at the majors.
“That’s always been the problem for some British women at Slams, just not being able to keep their composure and experiencing too many ups and downs.
“Katie seems to have that quality and she enjoys the hard courts as well, so she should be able to produce mature performances on a consistent basis at the majors.”
Aryna Sabalenka, the flat-hitting world number 11 who has been tipped by many to win the title in Melbourne, awaits in the next round and Wilson adds that she could claim the scalp of the Belarusian.
She adds: “Who knows? Sabalenka is heavy favourite but she could get nervous considering all the expectations on her. Katie is the underdog so if she hangs in there and serves well, she could get a big win.”
Elsewhere, Murray emptied his reserves to level his match with Roberto Bautista-Agut after going down two sets to love and the Spaniard’s superior fitness showed in the deciding set.
Murray, however, left the door open to a possible u-turn on his retirement plans post-match, telling a passionate crowd inside the Melbourne Arena: “Maybe I’ll see you next again. I’ll do everything possible to try. If I want to go again I’ll need to have a big operation where there’s no guarantees. I’ll give it my best shot.”
Edmund, who reached the semi-final in Melbourne last year, was outclassed in a straight-sets defeat to Tomas Berdych and will fall at least 11 places in the ATP rankings.
The 24-year-old won only three games as the opening two sets whizzed past, but did fashion a set point in the third set. Berdych fought off Edmund’s advances before closing out the match in a tie-break.
Cameron Norrie ran out of steam in a rematch with the American Taylor Fritz, the man whom he defeated in the quarter-finals of the ASB Classic last week.
The world number 68 converted only one of his six break point opportunities and was two points away from grabbing the second set, but Fritz moved into a commanding position when he took the tie-break before sealing Norrie’s fate in a 28 minute third set.
Meanwhile, the remaining two women in the main draw suffered chastening defeats on day one, with Harriet Dart losing 6-0, 6-0 to Maria Sharapova on her Rod Laver Arena bow.
Dart, who came through qualifying to make her debut in Melbourne, won only 13 points on serve as the five time Grand Slam champion showed no mercy to record a rare double bagel.
Sympathy, too, was in scant supply from the Russian, who responded when asked if she had any words of consolation for the Brit: “There is no time for that, I’m sorry to say. Not when you’re playing the first round of a Grand Slam.”
Heather Watson did not suffer the ignominy of a double bagel but her stay in Melbourne was short lived as she fell 6-1, 6-2 to the Croatian Petra Martic in an hour and five minutes.
The world number 108 received a visit from the doctor midway through the second set after complaining of dizziness and her play suffered as a result, spraying 26 unforced errors from her racket.
Johanna Konta is Britain’s lone hope in tomorrow’s draw as she faces the Australian Ajla Tomljanović.