French Open: Baltacha comeback stalled by Erakovic

Elena Baltacha started brightly against Marina Erakovic. Picture: Philippe Wojazer/Reuters
Elena Baltacha started brightly against Marina Erakovic. Picture: Philippe Wojazer/Reuters
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Beware players with poor clay court records – they have a nasty habit of beating the Brits. On Monday it was Laura Robson who was undone by Caroline Wozniacki, a woman who had not won a match on European clay all year, and last night it was Marina Erakovic who did for Elena Baltacha.

Admittedly, Erakovic, the world No 92, is not in the same league as Wozniacki, but, then again, Baltacha is still on her way back after a six-month break following ankle surgery. With a world ranking of 200, the Scot needed to use a “protected ranking” (the level she was at when she played at the Olympics last year, her last match before her break) just to get into the main draw at the French Open. She has only been back on tour for a few weeks – yesterday was just her tenth match back – and she is still trying to put her game into working order. Yesterday’s brief outing at Roland Garros will not have helped with that process at all.

For two full games, the Scot was in command, and 2-0 to the good, but then it all started to unravel: Baltacha lost 6-3, 6-0. Spraying errors far and wide as she tried to go for her shots, she only succeeded in bolstering the New Zealander’s seemingly fragile nerve. Coming to Paris on a four-match losing streak and having won just one match in her last eight, Erakovic did not look particularly confident as she got to work in the chilly evening air.

With one singles title to her name already this year, though – Memphis on an indoor hard court back in February – and having reached two clay court doubles finals in the past couple of weeks, she knew she had the ability to win; it was just a case of finding the nerve to show it. When the New Zealander went to serve for the first set, she looked absolutely terrified, but despite facing three break points, she clung on and began to lean into her shots. Once she had secured the lead, she was able to relax. And that was the last thing Baltacha needed. Clattering the ball one minute and then feathering the drop shots the next, Erakovic had her rival chasing after shadows. The Scot did not really know what to do to stop the onslaught and after 56 minutes it was all over.

“I think she played really well,” Baltacha said, taking the defeat on the chin.

“It’s a shame I couldn’t quite turn it around today but am I going to grumble? In my sixth tournament back? No, I’ve just got to be patient.” The disappointment was obvious but just being back in the heart of a grand slam, was worth all the effort she has put into her comeback.

“What I missed was the gladiatorial one-vs-one, the fist pumps,” Baltacha said. “I didn’t care if it would be on a back court somewhere in South Korea – I didn’t care. I just missed that feeling of the satisfaction when you hear the umpire say ‘game, set match Miss Baltacha’. That was the thing that really killed me.”

Back on the grass as the lead-in to Wimbledon, usually a happier hunting ground for her, Baltacha ought to get a bit more of that in the coming weeks.