Watson and her bid to set heather alight halted by gloom
British No.1 keeps flame flickering against Garcia before fading light suspends play
HEATHER WATSON, the British No.1, has a one-set shoot-out against Caroline Garcia of France today after bad light stopped their match at a set apiece. Watson’s hopes of taking the first-round encounter to a second day and a third set looked slim after she lost the first 6-1 in under half an hour, but she battled back to take the second 6-3.
Originally scheduled as the last match of the day on Court Two, the contest between the Briton and the No.32 seed was switched to Court 12 after play finished there earlier. The aim was to complete the first day as scheduled, but with visibility fading towards the end of the second set, the players were given the option of calling it a night and returning for the whole of the third. They took it, and the match was suspended, to a few half-hearted boos from the remaining spectators, just after nine o’clock.
That was roughly half an hour earlier than the latest play has gone on here, other than for Centre Court matches after the installation of the roof and its artificial lighting. But the Championships are being held a week later than usual this year, making any play after 9pm problematic.
Watson could have done without the interruption, given the way in which she had got back on terms after a poor start. She knows she cannot waste any time in getting up to speed when play resumes if she is to become the first British woman to make it into the second round.
Home hopes of a major upset on the first day rested with Johanna Konta, but the British No.2 found Maria Sharapova in unforgiving form and lost 6-2, 6-2. The No.4 seed, occasionally vulnerable to shocks in the opening rounds of major tournaments, looked a little shaky at first and had to save a couple of break points in her first two service games. But once she broke her Australian-born opponent to go 3-1 up, the only question was how long the match would last – not who the winner would be.
There was a chink of light for Konta when she broke at the start of the second, but she was herself then broken twice in succession. After that, Sharapova’s main difficulty came from her own lapses of concentration, one of which allowed Konta two break points in the seventh game. But once those were saved, the Russian wrapped matters up without further ado in a match lasting an hour and 22 minutes.
“I was quite pleased with the way things went today,” Sharapova said. “It was my first competitive match in about four weeks, so I just wanted to start off really strong, not knowing much about my opponent. So coming in without any proper grass-court matches, I just wanted to take care of business, and I thought I did a good job of that today.”
Konta, who was watched by her Fed Cup captain Judy Murray, was relatively pleased with her first outing against a top-five player. “It wasn’t just playing a top-five player – it was playing a top-five player on the Centre Court at Wimbledon,” the 24-year-old said. “There were obviously a lot of special moments all rolled into one scenario.
“I enjoyed every minute of it. She played very well. My best just wasn’t good enough today.”
Naomi Broady made it two defeats out of three for Britain’s women, losing 7-6, 6-3 to Mariana Duque-Marino of Colombia. “I’m obviously disappointed with the loss,” she said after being unable to emulate her brother Liam, who had won his first-round match earlier in the day.
“Going into the match, I was quite confident. I’ve had a good grass season overall and took some top players to close matches. I didn’t play my best tennis today, for sure, but I managed to give her a close match and did the best I could.”
Serena Williams, the top seed, dropped just one more game than Sharapova, beating Margarita Gasparyan of Russia 6-4, 6-1. For once in recent years, Serena was outshone by her elder sister Venus, who recorded one of the two double bagels on Day One.
Venus needed just 41 minutes to defeat another American, Madison Brengle, by the dreaded 6-0, 6-0 score. Germany’s Andrea Petkovic, seeded two places above the former champion at No.14, was three minutes quicker in beating Shelby Rogers of the USA by the same score. Ana Ivanovic, the former world No.1 who is seeded seventh this year, fared almost as well, defeating Yi-Fan Xu of China 6-1, 6-1.
Carla Suarez Navarro of Spain, the No.9 seed, was the day’s first major casualty. She lost 6-2, 6-0 to Jelena Ostapenko, the Lithuanian teenager who was the junior champion here 12 months ago.
Flavia Pennetta of Italy, seeded 24th, also fell at the first hurdle, losing 6-3, 2-6, 6-4 to Zarina Diyas of Kazakhstan. Barbora Strycova of the Czech Republic, the 27th seed, was beaten 6-4, 6-2 by America’s Sloane Stephens.
Lucie Safarova, the sixth seed and runner-up at the French Open, was in trouble against Alison Riske, losing the first set 6-3. But she fought back strongly, eliminating the American by taking the next two 7-5, 6-3.
RALLY CRY: Watson celebrates during her match against Caroline Garcia