Heather Watson was a first-round loser in Melbourne (AP).

Heather Watson suffers first-round exit at Australian Open

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Heather Watson snatched defeat from the jaws of victory as the British number two lost to Hungary's Timea Babos in the Australian Open first round.

Watson led by a set and 5-4 and was serving for the match in Melbourne but world number 60 Babos came roaring back to win a gripping contest 6-7 (4/7) 7-5 7-5.

It means Watson, ranked 79th in the world, has now lost in the opening round of the tournament for the last three years in a row.

There were, however, positives to take from an assertive performance in which Watson was more aggressive from the back of the court and more creative with her shot-making.

Several drop-shots and 14 approaches to the net were testament to a more inventive approach, which may in part come from the influence of Judy Murray, who recently began coaching Watson on an interim basis.

The 23-year-old, however, has a tendency to become embroiled in long, attritional matches and that was the case again on Court 8 as both players displayed a level of tennis above their lowly world rankings.

By the end of the first set each had served the same number of double faults and aces, taken the same number of breaks and amassed the exact total of points but it was Watson who struck at the decisive time as a driving Babos forehand drifted out to give the Briton a one-set lead.

The second set was just as tight as the first but again, Watson raised her game at the right time, winning a mammoth 40-shot rally at 4-4 and opening up two break points.

Babos confirmed the break with a double fault but as Watson served for the match, nerves seemed to take hold.

Retreating into the rallies, she allowed Babos to take advantage, as her opponent hammered away a forehand to level at 5-5 before sailing through two more games to force a decider.

Watson was suddenly on the back foot and when an incorrect review gifted Babos the break, it looked as though the game was finally up.

Instead, Watson dug deep, breaking back when Babos was serving for the match at 5-3 and then consolidating to put the tie back in the balance at 5-5.

The Hungarian edged ahead again, however, and Watson, serving to stay in the match, faltered as Babos opened up one match point, before firing away a backhand winner to confirm her gutsy victory.

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