India’s singles campaign at the Australian Open ended on a sour note with Somdev Devvarman and Sania Mirza going down fighting in their respective first round matches on Monday.
Sania took a set off former World No.1 and winner of seven Grand Slam titles Justine Henin of Belgium before losing 7-5, 3-6, 1-6 in the first round.
Henin, who won the tournament in 2004 and finished runner-up in 2006 and 2010, needed all her fighting qualities to subdue an inspired Sania in 2 hours and 12 minutes.
“Well, I was ready it could be a tough match because she’s not a qualifier like maybe the others, as she has been in this type of situation. She has been in the top 30,” Henin said later. “She can play a very solid tennis. So the beginning wasn’t that easy for me. She was playing high rhythm, not a lot of mistakes at the beginning, and it was tough for me because I was running a lot.”
The 28-year-old Belgian was returning to the big stage after a six-month layoff, when she was nursing an elbow injury.
“To get into the match, that wasn’t the perfect situation for me to come into the tournament,” she said. “I think my attitude has been very positive. So I really kept fighting in the second set when I was feeling a bit down at that time.”
Sania looked like she could pull off the upset in the second set, but Henin has never been one to go down quietly.
Henin finally found a way into Sania’s weaker backhand side, served bigger and with more consistency, and cut loose on short balls when she was presented with them. While The Indian looked more powerful at times, Henin kept pushing herself forward and showed why it is she who has won seven Grand Slams titles, including the 2004 Australian Open.
“It was about taking chances that you have and when you don’t again people like that they are going to be able to win,” Sania said. “I think this sends out a very big message as to where I stand now as a tennis player again. I have not played someone like that for a couple of years now and I showed I could compete against her.”
Somdev, meanwhile, ran Tommy Robredo of Spain close in the first set, but eventually went down 6-7(4) 3-6 4-6.
The Indian, awarded a wildcard for winning gold at the Guangzhou Asian Games last year, was playing his first main draw match at the Grand Slam.
He converted two of the eight break points on offer, but eventually failed to sustain in a contest that lasted two hours and 37 minutes.