January 21, 2020
Harriet Dart produced a dramatic British success story on day two by earning herself a mouthwatering clash with Wimbledon champion Simona Halep.
And Londoner Dart has the added kudos of outlasting Maria Sharapova at this year’s Australian Open.
It was Sharapova who reduced her to tears in Melbourne last year by beating the plucky qualifier 6-0, 6-0.
But Dart wasn’t ready to go home so early this time around.
She drew on her survival instincts after she had to endure a troubled first set against Japan’s Misaki Odoi.
Having started strongly, the 23-year-old Dart lost eight successive games. So she needed to dig deep from 0-2 down in the second, already trailing by a set.
But Dart found a fresh rhythm in time to level up the match and pave the way for what proved to be a nerve-jangling third.
She seemed to have the momentum as she edged ahead in the decider.
Dart even had match points at 6-5 and 40-15. But her forehand deserted her at the crucial moments.
The setback seemed to scramble her senses for a while. Ominously, she trailed 1-5 in the “champions” breaker.
The world number 173 must have thought her chance had gone against an opponent almost a hundred places above her in the rankings.
So it took a considerable degree of nerve and defiance for the British underdog to fight back when all seemed lost and eventually prevail 2-6, 6-4, 7-6 (10-6).
Now Dart will feel she has nothing to lose against Halep, one of the favourites for the tournament.
The Romanian fourth seed, who charmed Wimbledon’s Centre Court with her victory speech last summer, won through 7-6 (7-5), 6-1 against Jennifer Brady.
Meanwhile Sharapova, Dart’s merciless conqueror twelve months ago, didn’t last as long the Brit this time around.
She fell to Donna Vekic and couldn’t confirm whether she would still be around to play the tournament this time next year.
Dart’s triumph was the best piece of news all day for the Brits.
Even though Katie Boulter played well at times, she eventually succumbed to the power of Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina.
There was also disappointment for Johanna Konta and Kyle Edmund, the latter a semi-finalist at the Australian Open only two years ago.
Both were knocked out at the first stage, along with Cameron Norrie.
But the biggest tennis names won through in the men’s tournament.
Rafael Nadal and Alexander Zverev both looked impressive.
Nadal only lost five games as he progressed without expending too much energy against Bolivia’s Hugo Dellien.
Stan Wawrinka and Daniil Medvedev both dropped sets but lived to fight another day.
And now we can look forward to more top action with Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic on day three. We can’t wait!