Her 6-4, 7-6 loss to Ana Ivanovic may look, on paper, to be just another straight-sets loss to a big-name player but her performance, pushing the Serb every step of the way in the second round yesterday, gave Baltacha cause to think that she can come back from her impending surgery.
The Scot, who was in tears after her defeat, needs repair work to cure chronic problems with both feet and the recovery time would be a long six months of rehabilitation and physiotherapy. If she were to come back next February, she would be heading for her 30th birthday – and that is no age to be starting from scratch as a professional athlete.
But looking back over her efforts against Ivanovic, she knows that all the hard work she has put in with her coach, Nino Severino, is paying dividends. As is her wont, she fought like a demon to recover from a 3-0 deficit in the first set, to give herself a break point chance to take a 4-3 lead in the second set and to stave off four match points. She played intelligently, she did not panic when the chips were down and she varied her tactics time and again. She played an excellent match but the former world No 1, the current world No 12 and the former French Open champion just played that bit better on a couple of the points that mattered.
“It was tight,” Baltacha said. “Damn, I had a couple of break points in that second set to go 4-3 up. If I’d taken it, you never know: maybe something would have been different. I just think if I’d taken that opportunity it would have been a different match. But, anyway, I fought back, got myself into the tie-break but those first few points, they’re always the key and I just gave it away too cheaply and then she stepped up. I obviously came back but it was too late. But it was a good match. I thought she played well.”
But while her appointment with the surgeon beckons, Baltacha is not prepared to hang up her rackets just yet. After a lifetime on the road, she suspects that six months at home might convince her domestic bliss is better than living out of a suitcase, but she is approaching the injury break with the intention of working herself narrow in the winter in order to return to the tour next year.
“I have to have the op because I can’t carry on without having it done,” she said. “I am going to take my recovery seriously and then just see how I feel during it and make a decision at Christmas. If I’m going to come back I will come back in February. My mindset is that I would like to come back but, you know, if I find the home comforts are a little bit too important and I don’t want to get on another plane, then I’ll retire. But the way that I’m thinking, I want to come back [in February].”
By then, both Laura Robson and Heather Watson ought to be doing battle on a weekly basis for the position of Britain’s No 1 female player. Both women notched up impressive wins to reach the second round yesterday, Robson, the world No 96, taking down Lucie Safarova, ranked 23 from the Czech Republic, 7-6, 6-4 and Watson, ranked 69, brushing aside the world No 63, Silvia Soler-Espinosa of Spain, 6-2, 6-2.
Watson’s win was swift and straightforward but Robson had a real battle on her hands. From skipping away to a 5-1 lead, she was reeled in by the Czech and as the pressure mounted, so Robson’s error-count rose. But even though she is still only 17 years old, the teenager from SW19 – she grew up just a stone’s throw from the All England Club – is maturing fast. She settled her nerves, went for her serve and put away her more experienced rival in 92 minutes. “It’s definitely one of the best wins I’ve had,” Robson said. “It was such a tough match. I always find it really difficult to play against fellow lefties. Today I think I just fought as well as I could and stuck with her.”
She will have to fight even harder if she wants to reach the third round: she now faces Maria Sharapova. Watson, too, has her work cut out against Maria Kirilenko in the next round but, no matter, she is buzzing with the whole Olympic experience. Distracted, but only briefly, by the cheering for Robson on the adjacent court, she eased into the second round knowing that her friend was, like her, safely over the first Olympic hurdle.
“I stayed focused,” she said, “but I knew she had won by the way the crowd roared at the end. We’re all loving the experience of being at the Olympics, but at the same time we’re staying focused because we want to finish with a medal. That’s all of our goals. I think we all have a good chance. I think the home crowd definitely helps.”
In the men’s competition, there were no dramas either for world No 1 Roger Federer as he brushed aside France’s Julien Benneteau to reach the last 16. The pair met in the third round of Wimbledon last month when Benneteau almost pulled off a huge shock as he led Federer by two sets to love before the Swiss star turned things around. This time, the Swiss was never troubled as he eased to a 6-2 6-2 victory.