February 9, 2021
Poor Jo Konta showed admirable sportsmanship at the most difficult moment. She took the trouble to greet her opponent warmly and explain that an abdominal injury meant she couldn’t continue.
That drew a sympathetic round of applause from the crowd – and deservedly so.
Jo was suffering inside and it wasn’t long before the tears were flowing.
She said later: ‘I don’t have answers to why this happened. I haven’t had an ab issue for a very long time. I feel like I’m in a bit of shock.’
It’s a tough break for Konta so early in the tennis season. But no doubt she will be fighting fit and ready to go deep once more at Wimbledon 2021.
Meanwhile Dan Evans was so hurt by his defeat to Cameron Norrie that he could barely touch racquets with his friend before leaving the court. Norrie will understand that reaction after he thwarted an Evans comeback to win in four sets. He knows how competitive Dan is.
Konta loves to win too, but it wasn’t to be this time round.
When she realised her body would not let her continue competitively in Melbourne, she smiled at her young opponent, the Slovenian qualifier Kaja Juvan, and told her she was through.
That must have been so hard for Konta to take deep down. She had just won the first set 6-4. No wonder she couldn’t hold back those tears as she left court in Melbourne for the last time.
But she had needed a medical time out during that opener. She first felt the injury in her second service game and later in the set it really began to hurt.
Konta required further muscular massage at the break and then couldn’t stay with her little-known adversary in the first two games of the second. Instinctively, Konta knew there was no point in carrying on.
There was better news for Heather Watson, who progressed by virtue of two tie-breaks.
She showed a cool nerve to defeat the willowy Czech, Kristyna Pliskova 7-6 (7-4), 7-6 (7-3).
Yet she too had been worried by her physical state after suffering a leg spasm.
It may be that the pre-tournament quarantine period has left players slightly less fit than they would otherwise have been. But that is the nature of the world we currently live in. Such challenges should decrease by the English summer.
‘It made victory sweeter because we had been through a lot in the last few weeks,’ said Watson.
Yorkshire’s Francesca Jones couldn’t prolong her Aussie fairytale. She was simply outgunned in her maiden Grand Slam appearance.
Shelby Rogers beat her 6-4, 6-1. But then the American is ranked almost 200 places higher.
It has still been a breakthrough month or two for Jones, who was born with fewer fingers and toes than most of us.
And we can’t wait to see her at Wimbledon 2021 if she negotiates qualifying or receives a wildcard.
Unseeded Norrie won the battle of the British men after the match looked to be going all the way.
Birmingham’s Evans led 3-0 and 5-3 in the fourth and even had a set point. He was the far noisier player throughout, and could be heard roaring himself on as he set about changing the momentum.
But Norrie quietly dug in to take back control when it mattered.
He conjured a series of punishing drop shots and passes to underline his superiority on the day. Ultimately the underdog triumphed 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, 7-5.
Cameron had already shown signs of great improvement in preceding tournaments and Evans, seeded thirtieth, knew he faced a tough test.
But not even Evans could have predicted just how assured and deadly Norrie would be.
Indeed Evans had just won his first-ever ATP tournament down under at the weekend.
That may have proved to be his undoing because he didn’t seem to have enough left in the tank for the big event.
After one key point, having sent his desperate reply to a cunning drop shot way beyond the baseline, Evans simply sat on court in dismay, struggling for breath.
Norrie is an accomplished lefty with an increasing variety to his game.
His father is Scottish and his mother is Welsh, but Cameron was born in South Africa and raised in New Zealand. He switched allegiance to Britain aged sixteen and has shown remarkable tenacity to reach the next level.
The bigger superstars will hold sway at the Australian Open as time goes on. Rafael Nadal and Stefanos Tsitsipas both won easily, though Victoria Azarenka was a surprising casualty.
For now it is great to reflect upon the the number of British players who made it to the main draw. Norrie and Watson march on.