Heather Watson’s upbringing on the island of Guernsey helped her overcome both Kristyna Pliskova and the 50mph gusts of wind that blew across Melbourne Park, carrying dust, leaves and hats in their wake.
Island life usually involves strong sea breezes – which may explain why Rafael Nadal, who grew up on Mallorca, is renowned as the greatest wind player the game has ever seen.
In Watson’s case, she went a set down on Wednesday morning against the big-serving Pliskova – left-handed twin of world No 2 Karolina – but grew into the match with such conviction that she was dominant by the end.
“It is very [windy in Guernsey],” said a beaming Watson after her 4-6, 6-3, 6-1 win. “I don’t mind the wind at all, and the way I play – slice, drop-shots, and change of pace balls – I think it works well.”
The two ends of Court 12 played completely differently, so that you had to belt the ball with all your strength from one side while barely touching it from the other. Watson served so well with the gale behind her that she scored nine aces – only one fewer than Pliskova – and reached a top speed of 108mph.
Small adjustment steps were vital every time the ball was caught by a late gust, and here the panther-like Watson had an advantage over her stilt-legged opponent. Pliskova seemed to become thoroughly demoralised as she lost the final six games in a rush, along with 21 of the last 30 points.
It was a day for deft players with excellent footwork. And that – unfortunately – would be a good description of Japan’s Yoshihito Nishioka, who ended British interest in the men’s singles draw when he took out Dan Evans in straight sets.
This one was staged on Court 19, to the east of the site. The stands here had a canvas roof, which sang – or, more accurately, screamed – like a jet engine when the wind caught it from a certain angle. On the court, Evans was full of angst and self-admonishment as he failed to break Nishioka’s underpowered serve at any stage in his deflating 6-4, 6-3, 6-4 defeat.
“He played good,” said Evans afterwards. “I knew it would be difficult. In all honesty I didn’t want him to win when he was playing against [Laslo] Djere [in the first round]. When it was windy like that I knew exactly how he would play and I couldn’t break him. I didn’t play great, but all credit to him, he played pretty good.
“Some days you look forward to matches and I didn’t look forward to it,” added Evans. “I just find him overly awkward. All credit to him, he made it literally as awkward as possible. I had two big chances in the third and I didn’t take them. He took his. And I thought he returned pretty good considering the conditions.”
Asked how he rated his first few weeks of the season, Evans replied “They were great. This tournament has been good as well. To start the year with such drama with my matches at the ATP Cup [in Sydney], I can only look back and be happy. I’ve got a lot of points and [made] good moves up the rankings.” He has also earned £265,000 in prize money.
By beating Mackenzie McDonald in Monday’s first-round match, Evans matched his second-round exit here last year. He is thus likely to remain at No 32 in the world or thereabouts. His next tournament is likely to be in Rotterdam in the second week of February.