It was literally at the eleventh hour that Harriet Dart saved British tennis from an Australian Open wipeout when she fought her way through to the second round.
The clock was about to hit 11pm when she completed a comeback from 1-5 down in a sudden death ‘champions’ tiebreak to beat the more experienced Misaki Doi, having spurned two match points at 6-5 in the decider.
She now meets Wimbledon champion Simona Halep after her courageous 2-6 6-4 7-6 win, which came after two hours and 49 minutes, taking the penalty shoot out 10-6.
There is admirable pluck about the 23 year-old from Middlesex, who came through qualifying for the second year in succession. Ranked 173, she beat a player nearly 100 places higher than her.
Earlier there had been defeats for Jo Konta, Kyle Edmund and Katie Boulter, while Cam Norrie went down just before Dart won, failing to close out Frenchman Pierre Hugues Herbert to lose 7-5 3-6 3-6 7-5 6-4.
Konta was surprisingly phlegmatic after what was the first time she has lost in the first round of the main draw, putting her 6-4 6-2 upset at the hands of Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur down to her lack of matchplay after suffering knee tendinitis.
She restricted her workload even after arriving in Australia, and given the nature of such injuries it has lingered long enough for it to be an ongoing concern.
‘I think ultimately the main thing was to start playing again, and I am. And how I physically felt out there is obviously a massive tick for me compared to where I was in September of last year,’ she said putting a positive spin on matters.
Despite the lack of matches, she has no plans to change her mind and play in the Fed Cup for GB next month, even mentioning the possibility of playing the WTA event in St. Petersburg the same week, which would not be a good look. While neither Edmund nor Boulter got a set between them it is still possible to think that better results will be on the way for them.
Resuming from 5-2 up, the 24 year-old Yorkshireman should have taken the first set and had a point for it in the tiebreak before going down 7-6 6-3 7-6 to Dusan Lajovic, the number 24 seed.
Edmund had to put up with some sledging from Serbian supporters which drew tut-tuts from the more restrained Brits in the crowd. ‘Hey Kyle, book a flight home,’ was among the shouts. English cricketers have been subjected to worse in these parts, and it was not much of a factor.
More pertinent was that the Serbian is currently playing some of the best tennis of his career and he covered the court about as smoothly as his compatriot Novak Djokovic.
This forced Edmund into pressing too hard, but at least his forehand had some of its old ferocity back. It was plausible when he said, ‘I don’t think I am too far away, I am playing okay.’
Considering this the early stages of her return from serious back problems Boulter did not disgrace herself against world number five Elina Svitolina, making her work hard for a 6-4 7-5 win. She has further to climb back than Edmund from her ranking of 315, but on this showing she will be on the move soon enough.