A year ago Michael Venus took his first promising steps on the ATP Tour by taking a set off world No 51 Tommy Robredo. The young Kiwi eventually lost that match, but he at least showed he could foot it with one of the big boys.

Exactly 12 months later fate - and a Heineken Open wildcard courtesy of being New Zealand's top-ranked player - again saw Venus pitted against the world's 51st-ranked player. Venus again brought a game based on a big serve and ripping forehand but precious little else. He was easily beaten 6-4, 6-3 by Colombian Santiago Giraldo, a semifinalist here last year.

If the symmetry in the ranking of Venus's opponent provided an opportunity to gauge his progress over a year, the judgment must ultimately be harsh. If Venus has progressed as a player, it is in a backward direction. The fact his ranking had slid 42 places to 372 in the world seemed to suggest as much before the match had even started. Once the balls were in the air, suspicions of a retrenchment were quickly confirmed.

The malaise that has smothered New Zealand men's tennis for enough years to stretch into decades shows no sign of lifting.


"It is just a matter of keep working and just keep trying to get better," said a phlegmatic Venus. "That is all you can do. You are not always going to win every match or keep going up or everyone would be at the top. But as long as you keep trying your best and keep trying to fix things then that is all you can really ask."

Venus fared well enough on serve in the early going however his inability to dent the Colombian's serve always appeared a significant problem. So it proved when Venus stumbled on serve in the seventh game to hand Giraldo a break, with the Colombian utterly untroubled in serving out his next two games to take the set. Venus took just three points off Giraldo's serve in the entire set.

If that stat was a touch worrisome for the Kiwi heading into the second set, dropping his opening service game to love elevated it to alarming.

Venus did eventually eke out a few cracks, taking Giraldo to deuce on his next two service games, however he was never able to force a break point and eventually went out in tame fashion, dropping his serve in the final game to bow out in just 67 minutes.

Artem Sitak's challenge came to an abrupt halt in the third round of qualifying at the hands of the impressive Adrian Mannarino. The Frenchman had sailed through his first two qualifying matches and rolled right over Sitak in equally dismissive fashion. Sitak held serve in the opening game and had three break points in the second for 2-0, but that promising start by the Russian-Kiwi proved utterly misleading, with Mannarino running off 12 straight games to complete a 6-1, 6-0 thrashing.

American Donald Young became the first seed to exit the tournament when he was overhauled in three sets by Colombian Alejandro Falla.