Harriet Dart shows plenty of fighting spirit in loss to Simona Halep as last Brit exits Australian Open stage

Vicki Hodges
Harriet Dart does her best to trouble Simona Halep - REUTERS


And then there were none...

So for the second consecutive year, no British singles players have reached the third round of the Australian Open.

Dart put up a good fight against the former world No 1 but follows Heather Watson in exiting the opening major today. Watched by Fed Cup captain Anne Keothavong in the stands, they'll both likely form the backbone of Keothavong's team for the Fed Cup fixture against Slovakia next month.   


Halep 6-2, 6-4 Dart* (*denotes next to serve)

Halep flashes a glance to her corner, puffs out her cheeks after watching Dart flash a forehand winner cross-court. Dart, on the flip side is giving herself pep talks between service returns, bouncing around on the baseline. Errors are creeping into Halep's play now as Dart reels her in at 30-all. Halep is rattled and her forehand has gone AWOL. Break point now for Dart! Shame, she pulls a backhand into the tramlines. Will Halep finally close the door? Dart overshoots again to hand Halep another match point, but Dart won't go quietly. She moves Halep around and then delivers another winner which has Halep muttering. A third match point goes begging as Halep pushes long and then starts slapping her thigh in anger. Dart lets the adrenaline get the better of her as she goes for broke during the next point. And Halep finally gets the job done on her fourth match point when Dart pushes another groundstroke long. GAME, SET AND MATCH: SIMONA HALEP BEATS HARRIET DART 6-2, 6-4


Halep* 6-2, 5-4 Dart (*denotes next to serve)

Dart continues to play freely, swinging and making shots she was sending wide earlier on in the set. Halep's forehand, meanwhile, has gone walkabout. Dart, brimming with confidence again, advances to 40-15 before she can't mop up on the baseline. Halep plays with the strings of her racket, seething away inside she hasn't wrapped up this match already. Dart holds. 


Halep 6-2, 5-3 Dart* (*denotes next to serve)

Dart producing some cracking shots now she is loose and aware the game is almost up. She backs up a great forehand winner with a drop shot, but then pushes another groundstroke long to hand Halep match point at 40-30. Incredibly, Halep sends a regulation backhand into the middle and then leans back and loops a forehand long. From match point up to break point down. Dart seizes the chance and does a small jig as Halep dumps a drop shot into the middle. There's still life in Dart. DART BREAKS. 


Halep* 6-2, 5-2 Dart (*denotes next to serve)

Halep still pressing, putting pressure on Dart's serve and not allowing her rival sniff of a free point. The Brit has been forced to work hard throughout. She digs in, advances to two game points but then is out of luck when Halep loops a perfect lob over Dart's head and just inside the baseline. Another great reaction from Dart during the next rally. She toys with Halep, sending her scampering to the baseline with her own lobbed return and then pulling the trigger with a forehand down the line. She holds to force Halep to serve for the match. 


Halep 6-2, 5-1 Dart* (*denotes next to serve)

A weak drop shot from Dart draws groans from the crowd on Rod Laver Arena and a wry smile from the Brit. She's tried mixing things up, but she just hasn't had consistent execution. Halep secures another comfortable hold, this time to 15. Dart will serve trying to hang around this match. 


Halep* 6-2, 4-1 Dart (*denotes next to serve)

Great reaction from Dart in the face of such relentless play from Halep. She matches Halep's love-service game with her own one. She avoids a bagel set in the process and it's deserved. 


Halep 6-2, 4-0 Dart* (*denotes next to serve)

Destructive, dominant and determined play from Halep. Racing to three game points, she wraps up another game after just one minute and 11 seconds. Ruthless. 


Halep* 6-2, 3-0 Dart (*denotes next to serve)

Great pass from Dart as she gets down low to flick a backhand winner cross court with Halep all at sea at the net. Yet more service yips for Dart as she throws in another double. That ball toss has caused her real problems today.

Dart tries to keep spirits high, bouncing on her toes after pulling a groundstroke wide for 15-30 but there's no let up from Halep who is punishing anything short. Even with two break points, Halep shows she is human, missing a regulation forehand as Dart reels her to deuce. Amazing play from Dart during the point of the match as the Brit hangs tough to keep Halep pinned before the baseline and finally, finally managing to execute a winner. Is this what it takes to get a point off the former world No 1, she must wonder.

Still there's no let up at the other end, no time for Dart to give herself a pat on the back for the hardwork she's putting into the contest. HALEP BREAKS. 

There was no letting up from Halep against Dart Credit: AP


Halep 6-2, 2-0 Dart* (*denotes next to serve)

Halep solid as a rock on her service game after an early wobble at the start of the match. She holds to 15, throwing in a first act of the contest too. Dominant. 


Halep* 6-2, 1-0 Dart (*denotes next to serve)

Dart forced to reset her service rhythm again with the swirling wind causing her some issues with her ball toss.

A few more errors creeping in now, Halep senses her moment again at 30-all, gets a bit of luck when her reply skims the tape to bring up another break point. Dart hangs in, but Halep keeps taking advantage of Dart's slower second serve. Another break point moment and clever play from the Romanian, with a well disguised dink and she breaks again. HALEP BREAKS. 


Halep 6-2 Dart* (*denotes next to serve)

Halep a face of deep concentration as serves for the opening set. Dart strikes deep and into the corners during a couple of rallies which draws errors from Halep. The Romanian strikes long for a third time allowing Dart to turn a 30-0 game around to break point. Dart goes for broke, missing her moment and Halep closes the door. She brings a first set point, but Dart keeps fighting, keeps making Halep work and keeping her guessing. Halep brings up a second set point, and gets over the line this time. HALEP WINS OPENING SET. 



Halep* 5-2 Dart (*denotes next to serve)

Dart crucially gets a first serve in trailing 15-30 and it's key as she gets on the front foot in the rally, drawing an error from Halep.

She falters with her next first serve, apologises for a throw and reset of her next service rotation but then composes herself to win the next point to edge to 40-30. When Halep pushes a forehand wide, she finally holds on her serve. DART HOLDS FOR FIRST TIME. 


Halep 5-1 Dart* (*denotes next to serve)

Dart shows glimpses of her best again, executing a beautiful backhand winner down the line. But the power and precision and just the relentlessness of Halep's fire are giving her all sorts of problems. Dart gets away with a poor overhead smash when Halep nets to hang in the game at deuce. But then Halep plays Dart at her own game, luring her to the middle and then swiping a backhand winner down the middle. Four straight games now for Halep. 


Halep* 4-1 Dart (*denotes next to serve)

British No 3 finding the might of Halep and the Romanian's range and depth harder to cope with now. Dart is pinned behind the baseline and just trying to make Halep play one more shot, something her rival has built her two grand slam successes around. Another two break points for Halep now, she only needs one as Dart drills a groundstroke long. One-way traffic now. HALEP BREAKS AGAIN. 

Simona Halep finds her groove against Harriet Dart Credit: Getty Images



Halep 3-1 Dart* (*denotes next to serve)

Dart out of luck with another drop shot attempt, but she's right to keep deploying that tactic. Halep means business this service game, finding her rhythm and cementing the last break to love. FIRST HOLD OF THE MATCH. 


Halep* 2-1 Dart (*denotes next to serve)

Five straight points for Dart now before the Romanian stops the rot, finally overcoming Dart's resilience on the baseline to create enough space for the forehand winner. Dart showing a great defensive game as well as glimpses of being the aggressor. Dart's first serve goes AWOL to hand Halep another couple of break points at 15-40 and then backs it up with a second straight double. HALEP BREAKS. 


Halep 1-1 Dart* (*denotes next to serve)

Clever play from Dart, bringing Halep into the net which draws the error from the Romanian. Dart doesn't want to get locked into baseline rallies as she knows she won't have the upper hand. She tries the trick again, a drop shot luring Halep in before punching a volley past the five-times slam finalist for a mini break at 0-30.

And wow, this time Dart makes the backhand she missed in the opening game to move to three break points. She breaks back to love. DART BREAKS BACK. 


Halep* 1-0 Dart (*denotes next to serve)

Dart opens proceedings, takes on Halep from the baseline during the second point, it's a lung-busting rally which the Brit comes out on top.

Halep steps into a short reply to dispatch her first winner of the night before a forehand error from Dart brings her rival level at 30-all. At deuce, Dart strikes a backhand into the tape to hand Halep an early break point. And during the next baseline duel, the Brit strikes long. HALEP BREAKS. 


Last Brit standing

Dart is the final remaining Brit left in the draw following Heather Watson's loss this morning to Elise Mertens. 



Here they come...

Dart heading out on court first on Rod Laver, looking slightly nervous as she enters the half-filled Arena.

Halep follows, a picture of calmness and serenity. 


Can Dart cause huge upset?

Morning all, it's been quite the journey for British No 3, Harriet Dart, who is preparing for her fifth match in Melbourne.

Dart had to come through qualifying to earn a place in the main draw, and won through her first round comfortably for the loss of just five games. But a sterner test presents itself today in last year's Wimbledon champion and fourth seed Simona Halep.

Halep spent 22 minutes more than Dart on court in her opening round but has years of experience when it comes to slams, compared to 23-year-old Dart's lack of major experience.

Dart suffered a double bagel defeat to Maria Sharapova in the opening round of the Australian Open last year, but said she feels a different player to the one who left Melbourne Park’s biggest stadium in tears last year.  

“I have come on a lot since then,” she said. “I feel a lot physically stronger. My physical trainer [Ian Aylward of the Lawn Tennis Association] beats me in the gym all off-season. So I am recovering better and able to deal with the weight of shots.”

Dart's two other contests against top 10 players have both come in the familiar environment of Wimbledon - but both ended in defeat (to Karolina Pliskova, ranked eighth in 2018 and world No 1 Ash Barty last summer).

Defeat for Halep today is unthinkable, and would be her biggest loss, in terms of ranking difference at least, since a 2012 loss to Argentina's Paula Ormaechea, then world No 189 at the Australian Open.

The Romanian has this season also been reunited with long-time coach Darren Cahill, who took a 12-month break to spend time with his family.

Halep and Cahill have enjoyed a fruitful and sometimes frosty relationship but the two-times grand slam champion is grateful to have the Australian coach back in her corner.

And while other players have said they will donate money to Australia's bushfire campaign for every ace they sent down, Halep has another plan.

The 28-year-old will donate $200 every time she yells at Cahill. "This way I will raise a lot more money," she joked.