eather Watson has some happy memories of playing in Japan but this is unlikely to rank among them.
It was in this country, at the Japan Open back in 2012, that she became the first British woman to win a WTA Tour title in 24 years, beating Chang Kai-chen in the final in Osaka, but here in Tokyo her singles involvement will not go beyond the first round after she was beaten in straight sets by Germany’s Anna-Lena Friedsam on the opening morning of the Olympic tennis tournament.
Naomi Osaka had been due to kick off the competition on Centre Court at the Ariake Tennis Park but her late night torch-lighting duties at Friday’s opening ceremony saw her match pushed back to Sunday.
As the home favourite was enjoying a deserved morning off, Watson – Britain’s only female representative at these Games after Johanna Konta’s withdrawal – and Friedsam were sent out onto Court 1 to do battle in gruelling 33 degree heat and after almost two brutal hours it was the world No119 that prevailed 7-6 6-3.
In the conditions, making hard work of your service games didn’t seem a particularly shrewd plan but both players went with it, Friedsam taking almost six minutes to wrap up her first before Watson did likewise, already glazed in sweat by the time she saved two break points to level up.
And so it went on, for much of the first set, grit and rust in equal measure. A magical drop shot from Watson saw the door creak ajar with break point at 3-3 and it swung open a little wider when Friedsam faltered with her first serve but the Brit could only return the second into the centre of the net before the German fought back to hold.
Friedsam’s next service game brought another missed opportunity, another break point – this time teed up by a wonderful return winner from an awkward crouching position and some more deft touch – gone begging.
After those scares, Friedsam responded with her most dominant service game so far to heap the pressure back on Watson at 6-5 at at 0-30 it looked as if it may tell but four unanswered brought about the long-inevitable tie-break.
There, Friedsam grabbed an early advantage and never let it go, Watson battling hard with a couple of fiery aces but a drop shot short, a lob too long and a forehand wide saw the set slip away after well over an hour of sun-soaked toil.
To call what came next a collapse would be tad unfair, for though Friedsam immediately earned the first – and, ultimately, decisive – break of the match at the start of the second set it came only after another mammoth game that outlasted any of the duels that had punctuated the first.
It was to be Watson’s only wobble on serve until the final game of the match when, having failed to take either of the break point that would have levelled the set at 4-4, she finally ceded.