Australian Open 2021: Norrie puts out Evans, Konta injured, Watson wins on ‘day of Brits’

British seeds Konta and Evans, plus debutante Jones, out in the first round

Johanna Konta (Photo: Marianne Bevis)
Johanna Konta (Photo: Marianne Bevis)

There may be no Andy Murray in Australia this year—held back after his long absence following hip surgery by a coronavirus infection. And Kyle Edmund, a former semi-finalist at the Australian Open, also had to pull out with injury.

But in both singles draws, there was still a British presence, with a seed in each. Dan Evans was seeded No30, and ranked even higher since winning his first title in Melbourne just two days ago. And Johanna Konta, a former Australian semi-finalist, was seeded No13, and joined in the draw by three other women.

Katie Boulter was the only Briton in action on Day 1 at Melbourne Park, playing with a protected ranking after a long stretch away with back injury. But she lost to Daria Kasatkina, 6-1, 6-4.

Come Day 2, and No60-ranked Heather Watson played Kristyna Pliskova, who she beat in the first round of last year’s tournament. Watson was one of the players to endure strict quarantine in her first two weeks in Melbourne after sharing her flight with a coronavirus positive passenger, so she was not even permitted daily practice or training. As a result, she afterwards admitted, “four days ago my left leg went into spasm and I couldn’t finish practising.”

But she adopted aggressive tactics against the big-hitting Czech, coming through two tie-breakers despite being a break down in the second set, 7-6(4), 7-6(3), with 37 winners and 11 from 12 points won at the net.

Of her achievement, she said afterwards:

“I’m really pleased with how I played the tiebreaks. I thought I stepped up my game when I needed to and played some of my best tennis in the big moments… It made the victory today sweeter because we’d been through a lot the last few weeks. It was really tough mentally I would say the most. Physically I felt like I did a pretty good job in hard quarantine of trying to keep up my fitness.”

She next plays the No21 seed Anett Kontaveit, who was joint winner of last week’s Grampian Trophy.

It was a sadder story for Konta against qualifier Kaja Juvan. All looked fine as she served for the first set, 5-4, but after missing a smash, she went to her chair and called for the trainer, before leaving court for a medical time-out.

She returned to serve it out from 15-15, though it was a long game, 6-4, and then had more treatment on court to her hip—though she also had taping to her abdomen. She was clearly impeded on her serve, was broken, and took the only possible decision, to retire at 0-2 down.

She afterwards explained:

“Well, I pulled my ab, and that made it difficult for me to serve… I feel like I’m in a bit of shock, so I don’t really know anything yet, and I haven’t been able yet to check in with the physios.

“I felt it in my second service game of the first set, so then I was just conscious of trying to adapt while using my legs more on my serve. And then my second-last service game of the first set, that’s when it started to get quite painful… I don’t have answers of why this happened… For now, all I can say is that I don’t really know what to make of it yet.”

Fellow Briton, qualifier Francesca Jones, went out soon after to the 57-ranked Shelby Rogers, 6-4, 6-1.

This was the 20-year-old Jones’ first Major draw, and after going 3-0 down in the first set, she broke back in the fifth, and saved break point to level at 3-3. But Rogers broke again to win the first set, 6-4, and surged to a 5-0 lead in the second before Jones got on the board. After just 67 minutes, the American served it out, 6-1, and will next face Olga Danilovic, who knocked out No16 seed Petra Martic.

Jones, though disappointed, was pragmatic about what she has learned from this first experience. She has a rare genetic condition that has left her with three fingers and a thumb on each hand, three toes on her right foot and four toes on her left. She said:

“I’m going to sit down and watch the match with my coach when I’m slightly more objective, but I think overall I have proved that I can compete at this level, and I think now it’s about accumulating as many matches as possible over the next 12 months against players such as Shelby or even of a higher level. My feet are very much on the ground. Back to reality for me, it’s been great here, but it’s all about working hard in the day to day.”

That left Dan Evans and the 69-ranked Cameron Norrie, drawn against one another for the first time after being team-mates for many years. As Evans said beforehand:

“Obviously Cameron would know me better than most. He beat me last time, when we were in lockdown in London, so I’m the underdog. The pressure is on him.”

He may have had his tongue in his cheek, but in the event, Norrie played a high-quality and astute match to counter the all-court mix of spin and speed from Evans. He broke in the third game of the opening set, and held for 3-1, eventually serving it out, 6-4—a calm presence in contrast with the bustling, irritable Evans at the other end.

Evans received a warning for language, and then for time, at the start of the second set, but he chivvied and chased through the set before finally drawing a net-error from Norrie on set-point: 6-4.

The sun and shadow in the late afternoon were difficult for both players and spectators, but Evans battled through a nine-minute opening hold in the third set. Again under pressure in the third game, though, he looked increasingly distracted, and Norrie broke. A love hold, including a nice drop winner, and Norrie led 3-1, and he continued to mix things up with some slick baseline passes and net plays.

The longer this went on, the more Evans’ title efforts of last week would surely start to tell—four matches in three days, with just one day’s break before this leg-draining test. By the time Norrie served for the set, Evans had notched up more than 40 errors, and he was soon down another set, 6-4.

The seesawing fortunes continued into the fourth. Evans got an early break, and dug deep to hold for 3-0, only for Norrie to break in the fifth. Evans’ intensity cranked up again, and he attacked the net time and again, earning another break to serve for the set, 5-3. But once again, Norrie worked three break points, and a double fault from Evans ended a seven-minute game for the break, and Norrie held to level, 5-5.

Another gruelling rally, 28 shots, left Evans exhausted on the ground, while Norrie seemed able to do little wrong. He broke the heavy-legged Evans again to serve for the match, and made no mistake, 7-5, after almost three and a half hours.

It marked his first win at the Australian Open, and Norrie will now take on qualifier Roman Safiullin. If he is successful, the stakes will likely get much, much higher—a showdown with world No2 and former champion Rafael Nadal.

Evans afterwards talked about the tough turnaround from his title run on Sunday:

“I just found it tough to come back. I just felt pretty flat ever since [Sunday] really. I didn’t practise great yesterday. Yeah, it was difficult. Maybe mentally, as well… I prepared as well as I could, but I could feel myself talking a lot, and it was tough to get out of… So yeah, it’s a bit bittersweet really.”

Norrie admitted:

“Well, it’s never easy having to play the only other Brit. And I’m good friends with Dan. I have played him in a couple of the Battle of the Brits in London… We both know each other’s games well. And obviously he had done well last week, so I knew he was going to be playing well. I was ready for that.”

Big winners

· Rafael Nadal (2), the 2009 champion, beat Laslo Djere, 6-3, 6-4, 6-1

· Daniil Medvedev (4) beat Vasek Pospisil, 6-2, 6-2, 6-4, his 15th win in a row

· Stefanos Tsitsipas (5) beat Gilles Simon, 6-1, 6-2, 6-1

· Andrey Rublev (7) beat Yannick Hanfmann, 6-3, 6-3, 6-4

· Matteo Berrettini (9) beat Kevin Anderson, 7-6(9), 7-5, 6-3

· Fabio Fognini (16) beat Pierre-Hugues Herbert, 6-4, 6-2, 6-3

· Ash Barty (1) beat Danka Kovinic, 6-0 6-0, in just 44 minutes

· Karolina Pliskova (6) beat Jasmine Paolini, 6-0, 6-2, in only 47 minutes

· Elina Svitolina (5) beat Marie Bouzkova, 6-3, 7-6(5)

· Sofia Kenin (4) beat Madison Inglis, 7-5, 6-4

Losing seeds

· Roberto Bautista Agut (12) lost to Radu Albot, 6-7(1), 6-1, 6-4 7-6(5)

· Victoria Azarenka (12) lost to Jessica Pegula, 7-5, 6-4

· David Goffin (13) lost to Alexei Popyrin, 3-6, 6-4, 6-7(4), 7-6(8), 6-3

· Petra Martic (16) lost to Olga Danilovic, 7-5 3-6, 6-4

· Maria Sakkari (20) lost to Kristina Mladenovic, 6-2, 0-6, 6-3

· Hubert Hurkacz (26) lost to Mikael Ymer, 3-6, 6-3, 3-6, 7-5, 6-3

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