Johanna Konta fails to hit top gear but still leads British assault at Australian Open

 
Ross McLean
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Konta became the first British woman to reach the last four of a grand slam in 33 years at the 2016 Australian Open (Source: Getty)

World No9 Johanna Konta expressed her relief at clearing the opening hurdle of her grand slam season after defeating Belgium’s Kirsten Flipkens in the first round of the Australian Open.

The 25-year-old, who prevailed 7-5, 6-2, led the home nations charge in Melbourne as Heather Watson and Kyle Edmund also progressed, ensuring that five British players reached the tournament’s second round for the first time since 1987.

Konta became the first British woman to make the last four of a grand slam in 33 years when she reached the Australian Open semi-final in 2016, and was content with her opening salvo this time around.

“She made it difficult for me out there,” said Konta, who will meet big-hitting Japanese teenager Naomi Osaka in round two. “She’s got this great ability at really frustrating her opponents with some of the balls she’s able to hit.

“She’s very creative in that way so I was really happy to be able to work myself into the match and come through it.”

Edmund, meanwhile, set up a second-round showdown with Spain’s Pablo Carreno Busta, who is seeded No30, after outclassing Santiago Giraldo of Colombia in straight sets, 6-2, 7-5, 6-3.

The 22-year-old world No46, who trained with Sir Andy Murray during the off-season, suffered with cramp during his first-round demise 12 months ago, although his fitness was never in question against Giraldo.

“Last year was a very different scenario, so it was nice to concentrate on my tennis and let my body take care of me,” said Edmund.

Watson crashed out of the Australian Open in the first round on her three previous appearances but arrested that trend following a two-hour battle with former US Open champion Sam Stosur, which she won 6-3, 3-6, 6-0.

“There were some very long games and I had a slow start in both of the first two sets, in the third I wanted to make her work,” said the world No81. “Sam’s a great player – she’s beaten me both times before. I felt I prepared really well and felt fit in that third set.”

It was not all celebrations for Britons, however, as Naomi Broady succumbed 3-6, 6-4, 7-5 to home favourite Daria Gavrilova.

Defending men’s champion Novak Djokovic breezed into the second round after crushing Spain’s Fernando Verdasco 6-1, 7-6 (7-4), 6-2 and was keen to point out that, for him, Melbourne, where he has won six Australian Open titles, is synonymous with success.

“It feels like home,” said the 12-time grand slam winner. “It feels like coming to the place where I have an amazing number of incredible memories.”

Injury-plagued Rafael Nadal, who had played just four matches since September’s US Open following a wrist injury, beat Germany’s Florian Mayer 6-3, 6-4, 6-4, while third seed Milos Raonic brushed aside Dustin Brown 6-3, 6-4, 6-2.

Six-time champion Serena Williams surged past Swiss teenager Belinda Bencic in 79 minutes, triumphing 6-4, 6-3, while third seed Agnieszka Radwanska dropped a set but beat Tsvetana Pironkova 6-1, 4-6, 6-1.