London 2012 Olympics: Baltacha in high spirits on potential swansong
IMAGINE, if you will, your venerable grandmother turning up at the vicar’s tea-party wearing a basque, fishnets and spike heels. As outfits go, it is not, in itself, offensive; it just seems rather inappropriate
So it is with Olympic tennis at Wimbledon – in the home of all that is holy in tennis, the pink, Olympic branding has taken over and everything seems just ever so slightly inappropriate.
The flash mob which kicked off proceedings on Henman Hill – a 15-minute dance routine to everything from the Beatles to Kylie Minogue – must have raised the blood pressure of the more traditional of the All England Club members and as for what they made of the Pet Shop Boys, who ran through three of their songs in the sunshine before a ball was struck in earnest, who knows. This was not Wimbledon as we all know it and love it.
Still, as far as Elena Baltacha was concerned, they could have been playing in welly boots on the moon for all she cared – she was at the Olympics and that was all that mattered. After so many months spent waiting and hoping for a place at the Games, she was finally here and her 6-3, 6-4 walloping of Agnes Szavay yesterday more than justified the International Tennis Federation’s faith in her when they awarded her a wild card.
“It was a very good start,” Baltacha said, beaming from ear to ear.
“I’m very delighted with that. I think for a first-round match, I’m very happy with how I played. I’m chuffed in the second round now.
“I was quite nervous before the match. I think once I put my GB gear on, it relaxed me more because I’ve been looking forward to this for such a long time. I thought, you know, I’ve got an amazing opportunity. That kind of relaxed me a bit more. Once I started going on court, seeing all the home support, them getting right behind me, that kind of got me more confident and kind of more like relaxed. So it was lovely.
“But I think my first day, when I came here, just seeing all the different colours, I was a bit, ‘Oh, my gosh’. But Wimbledon is always special every year I come here. I think it’s been perfect that it got picked to play here.”
But after all the work and effort in getting herself to SW19 for the second time this summer, the Olympics could mark the end of the Scot’s year and, possibly her career. Playing with both shins strapped to protect a bone spur in her right ankle and a similar, if less severe, problem in her left foot, Baltacha is contemplating having surgery once her Olympic duties are completed. Her recovery time would be around six months and coming back from that length of lay-off at the age of 29 would take a huge effort. With the six months, I want to go on a little bit of a break,” she said. “Obviously, I have an academy with the girls at home in Ipswich.
“I really want to spend some time with them, see what that is like, being at home a little bit more. Then, if I feel after the surgery that I want to come back, I will come back. If I feel I enjoy life at home, I really want to give my academy my full attention, then I might stop.
“I think it’s just smart if I protect my ranking, take the six months, and then I’ll be back in February. Fingers crossed, I’ll be back in February.”
But for the moment, the pain is bearable and while she is still able to play, she is determined to enjoy every second of her Olympic experience. Next in line for the Scot is Ana Ivanovic, the 6-4, 7-5 winner over Christina McHale. Although the Serb is a former world No.1 and French Open champion, she is as erratic as she is talented. This, then, is a chance to further the Baltacha family history at the Olympic Games.
“I think with Ana, when she’s playing at her best, she’s a very good player. Very dangerous. Big serve, big forehand. If she is not playing well, there’s a lot of weaknesses. It depends what Ana turns up. I’m going to be fighting, really swing for it, see what kind of damage I can cause her.
“There is already a bronze medal in the family – my dad in 1980 [with the USSR football team]. For me, it’s so special because obviously the history with my family: my dad an Olympian, my mum was selected [for the Soviet pentathlon team] but couldn’t go, to add myself to the Baltacha history, it’s really lovely.”
Her mother, Olga, is with Baltacha this week and even if she missed her own chance to become an Olympian 32 years ago – she had to stay home and look after Baltacha’s brother – she is finally experiencing the Games through her daughter. “She has absolutely loved it,” the proud daughter said. “I’m so happy that she’s here to experience it with me and to really enjoy it. I love the fact she’s here.”
If this is to be Baltacha’s farewell to tennis, it is turning out to be the best possible way to go.
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Thursday 20 June 2013
Temperature: 11 C to 19 C
Wind Speed: 7 mph
Wind direction: North
Temperature: 11 C to 18 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: West