Elena Baltacha peaking under new coach

ELENA Baltacha's story has long been one of unfulfilled promise. The raw ingredients have always been there – above all, her serve, one of the most powerful in the women's game – but a winning blend has never quite been realised.

Now, a couple of months shy of her 27th birthday, the Scot believes she is in a position to change all that, starting at noon today, when she faces Petra Martic of Croatia in the first round on Court 12. She has been in good form these past few weeks, has been injury free, and has also acquired a greater mental toughness thanks to her coach of the past 18 months, Nino Severino.

"He's completely changed everything round," Baltacha explained. "He looks after every aspect of my programme a year in advance – where I'm playing, weights, injury prevention, everything – and that makes such a big difference.

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"His background is in karate and kick boxing, and in martial arts you have to be so strong mentally from the first minute to the last minute of any contest. He has worked a lot on the mental side of my game, on how to cope with the highs and the lows, and I feel much more content now.

"In the past I was constantly breaking down because I didn't have the proper injury-prevention programme. I'd play one week then be injured the next. Now I'm playing and practising week after week. Before, I was so emotional when I played. I really wore my heart on my sleeve, so I was overpumped one minute then too flat the next with nothing in between. Now Nino has brought out this really good balance."

Her confidence already high following her win last week over former Wimbledon semi-finalist Jie Zheng, Baltacha received the ideal boost yesterday with the publication of the new Sony WTA rankings, in which she has risen ten places to her highest ever ranking of 52nd. Or rather, highest so far, as she is confident she can keep on climbing into the top 50 and then even higher.

"I really do believe that I'm a top 50 player when I play at my best, and my results have shown it. Once you break into the top 50 the opportunities are there and if you take them anything is possible.

"A couple of years ago you'd never have thought that Francesca Schiavone and Sam Stosur would have got to the final of a Grand Slam. Schiavone (who beat the Australian at Roland Garros] is 29, so she's got a couple of years on me. It's amazing, no-one would have tipped them, and it shows how all of a sudden your career can turn round. It makes me believe that next year I could be in the top 30, definitely."

Baltacha has reached the second round of Wimbledon three times, most recently last year. Her best performance to date, however, came all of eight years ago, when she got to the third round. With a second-round match against former finalist Marion Bartoli looking if she comes through against Martic, the British No 1 will probably have to be at her best to emulate that 2002 showing, but she is increasingly self-confident these days, and can now look above her at the top 50 and see lots of opponents who can be beaten.

"Definitely, specially on grass," she said. "I know a lot of girls who are in the top 50 come to Wimbledon and are not comfortable on grass. I am, and the way I'm playing means I'm confident just now."

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