Tennis: Dart defeated by Wimbledon champion Halep at Australian Open
PUBLISHED: 13:59 23 January 2020
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There are no British singles representatives in the third round of the Australian Open for the second straight year after defeats for Hampstead’s Harriet Dart and Fed Cup teammate Heather Watson.
Dart had the toughest task and performed the best, laying to rest the ghosts of 12 months ago, when she took to the same Rod Laver Arena court and failed to win a game against Maria Sharapova.
At 6-2 5-1 another heavy defeat was on the cards, but Dart dug in extremely well and produced some fine tennis, troubling Halep with her backhand in particular.
The British number three had one chance to break back for 5-5 but was unable to take it and fourth seed Halep clinched the set 6-4 on her fourth match point.
Dart, who also won three matches in qualifying, said: "It was always going to be a difficult match. In the last 20 minutes I upped my level, and I will be taking those positives for the rest of the year.
"I started to be more aggressive, winning more points, getting more errors from her. There's definitely progress, it's been a great week for me."
Giving her verdict on the British collective display, Dart added: "All of us expect a lot from ourselves. We are competing in a grand slam. There are no easy matches, we are playing against the highest-level players in the world, and it's incredibly tough.
"It's something that is still so new to me. To keep putting myself in the situations where I am playing big players, big moments, that's a step in the right direction."
Halep was very complimentary about Dart, saying: "I see that she can play a very high-level tennis because she's very smart.
"She has a good feeling of the court. I feel she can improve a lot very soon. Also the serve, I think it's important for her to improve because it's a little bit too slow."
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Watson was disappointed with her performance in a 6-3 6-0 defeat by 16th seed Elise Mertens that lasted only 56 minutes.
And the bare facts show that seven British players produced only three main draw wins between them and, of the trio who reached the second round, none won a set.
Watson had claimed her best win for two-and-a-half years by beating Mertens in the quarter-finals of the Hobart International last week and she battled superbly to beat Kristyna Pliskova and the wind in the opening round on Wednesday.
But Watson could not find anything like the same level against Mertens, losing the last eight games and winning just eight points in the second set.
Watson pulled no punches in her assessment of her performance, saying: "I felt my level wasn't there today. My movement. I was a millimetre or a second too slow to everything. I was letting her dictate.
"As the match went on, she played better and was more aggressive. I am just not happy with my performance at all."
It has nevertheless been a good two weeks for Watson, and she added: "I remember last year this time I would have be happy to win a single match.
"The fact I have played so many here in Australia, feeling good, in good spirits. I wish I didn't lose the way I lost. I wish at least I got closer in the score. It happens. Now I will go home."
Watson is hopeful of recovering from a minor abdominal strain in time to lead Britain in their Fed Cup play-off against Slovakia in Bratislava in two weeks' time, where Dart is likely to be the number two.
Johanna Konta's decision not to play in the competition this season has severely weakened Britain's chances of reaching the inaugural finals week in Budapest in April.
Watson said: "Jo has been such a solid performer in the Fed Cup and just in general. That's a shame but I'd like to think positive otherwise there is no point going.
"I love competing for my country, I've competed every opportunity I've been given."