Heather Watson became the final British woman to exit the French Open, losing to former Grand Slam winner Svetlana Kuznetsova, rounding off a terrible week for the so-called rising British stars in Paris.
But it was Eastbourne-based Johanna Konta, the world #21 and top Brit, who was expected to ignite the red clay courts at Roland Garros. However, her footwork was all over the place as she succumbed without much of a battle to Germany’s Julia Goerges in straight sets to tumble at the first hurdle.
This time last year Australian-born Konta was outside the world’s top 100 and fought through a trio of Qualifying matches to reach the 1st Round at Roland Garros, tasting a narrow defeat in a topsy turvy contest that was probably down to exhaustion at the clay court season’s final tournament.
Having kicked off this campaign with a shock run to the semi-final stage of the Australian Open it was Konta’s first time to go straight into the draw at the French Open.
But it proved to be a disaster, her French flop was as timid as watching former British #1 Laura Robson – whose form on the WTA Tour is a true tragedy for someone who was such a talented teenager.
Konta, who kick-started her climb up the world rankings after her exceptional run at the 2015 Aegon International, had been expected to turn heads in Paris:
“I was a little bit like Bambi as I didn’t find my footing quick enough.”
She will, like the other British women except Robson, be given a breather next week before the all too brief grass court season starts culminating in The Championships at SW19.
A different ball game on grass
Konta reached the quarter-finals at the coveted Miami Open and Guernsey girl Watson – another ex-British #1 – reached the same stage and has been in formidable form recently.
Watson’s 1st Round triumph over American Nicole Gibbs in Paris, her Doubles partner at the French Open, proved enough to secure a berth at August’s Olympic Games in Rio, Brazil.
Yet Watson has no answer against Russian veteran Kuznetsova, although may get the chance for revenge when the pair compete at the 2016 Aegon International. And Watson won the Mexico Open this term, so is a force to be reckoned with on fast surfaces.
Struggling Brit Naomi Broady and Robson both bowed out in the 1st Round at the Miami Open, and neither has set the WTA Tour alight. Robson, who was competing at Roland Garros for the first time since 2013, made 37 unforced errors to fall in straight sets to German Andrea Petkovic.
The gulf in class was telling, and now Robson will attempt to warm-up for The Championships on the lower tier ITF circuit, beginning at Eastbourne next week for the 22-year-old former Junior Wimbledon champion.
Last year Robson’s comeback, after being sidelined from the WTA Tour for 17 months because of chronic wrist injuries, proved a disaster at Devonshire Park.
Her dismal display in the 1st Round of Qualifying against Russian-born Australian Daria Gavrilova resulted in ridicule from the media and fans alike, which proved to a further setback.
Virtually one year on and Robson’s promised resurgence has failed big time, she still has a protected world ranking to enter some tournaments but then pitiful performances leave her with a low morale.
The Madrid Open saw a poor showing for the British women – all out at the first hurdle although Konta retired because of a respiratory illness.
The Italian Open in Rome, the last chance to warm-up for Roland Garros, proved more profitable with Konta defeating world #7 Roberta Vinci – who is also Eastbourne-bound this season.
Konta declared after beating the Italian: “I appreciate every single chance I get, it doesn’t matter if I’m on Centre Court or out on Court 1”.
Yet the confident Brit was taught a tennis lesson by Japan’s Misaki Doi in the 3rd Round.
Watson also saw off an Italian star in Rome, getting the better of Sara Errani before tasting a 3rd Round reversal.
She explained after the Errani win: “I’m very pleased with how I played, there’s no point trying to outgrind her or step back – I just had to be the more aggressive player.”
Robson was outsmarted by American Christina McHale in the 1st Round and Broady failed to get out of the Qualifying stage.
The British ladies may be lacking form but after an arduous clay court season the quartet should relish the grass and between them have the ability to impress at Nottingham, Birmingham and Eastbourne prior to Wimbledon.
Their added bonus of fervent fans behind them should give them the advantage, but following their combined French Open fiasco then it is anyone’s guess how they will fare at the next Grand Slam.