ELENA Baltacha has had her struggles at Wimbledon in the past. Yesterday, however, was a case of double delight for the Scot as she celebrated reaching the second round with a 4-6, 6-4, 6-0 victory over Karin Knapp.
The tears she shed at the end were only those of joy.
Almost immediately after she had whacked a ball into the crowd in celebration the watching Judy Murray, captain of the Great Britain Fed Cup team, whispered the news, announced just before her match commenced, that Baltacha had gained a wild-card entry to the Olympics later this summer.
No British women qualified by ranking for the tournament, which will be played at Wimbledon, but the Lawn Tennis Association were hopeful host nation status would see them looked upon favourably by the International Tennis Federation, who decide the wild cards. This has proved to be the case.
Baltacha’s case was particularly compelling given that she spent over two years as British No 1 but lost her position to Anne Keothavong on the week when only the first-ranked player qualified for the Olympics. She has participated in 43 Federation Cup ties in succession, stretching back to 2001, and so missing out on a tournament her father, the former St Johnstone footballer Sergei, competed in for Russia, would have been a hard one to take.
Before Baltacha becomes an Olympian, she has the equally exciting prospect of taking on last year’s champion Petra Kvitova in the second round tomorrow. She was glad no-one had told her the news about the wild card before yesterday’s clash with Knapp, which was interrupted for a long spell in the second set as the Italian received treatment after a heavy fall. Baltacha herself hurt her hip in the third set and had to ask for treatment. The pain was assuaged by both the emphatic nature of the win and the news delivered by Murray shortly afterwards.
“I am glad no-one told me beforehand, because I would have been all over the place, to be honest,” she said. “It is just amazing news. I think that’s why we both just started to cry our eyes out.”
Meanwhile, England failed to gain revenge in a quick re-match with Italy yesterday, although there was some satisfaction to be gained from the fact Laura Robson’s three-sets defeat to Francesca Schiavone was a lot more evenly matched than the equivalent footballing contest on Sunday.
Schiavone even had to resort to some dark arts to ensure her passage into the second round at the expense of Robson, who broke into the world’s top 100 only last week. Schiavone is currently ranked at 26 but has a French Open title to her name as recently as last year. The status granted by this accolade was not in evidence early on, as Robson darted into a 4-l lead, dropping only two further games to take the first set. But Schiavone relied on her wiles and succeeded to disrupt Robson’s rhythm, eventually triumphing 3-6, 6-4,6-4.
Drawing mutters from the crowd, however, was Schiavone’s frequent complaints about a back ailment. It’s a topical issue in tennis just now, with Andy Murray having been criticsed by Virginia Wade for being a “drama queen”. Wade would have had to reach the same conclusion if she had been watching Schiavone, whose time-outs for injury breaks seemed to coincide with the spell in the game when she was being comprehensively out-played by Robson, whose style relies on momentum and flow. It clearly didn’t help that she was being required to wait for her opponent as she was prodded and massaged, as happened at the end of the first set. Robson was left to sit and wait for her opponent, who left the court to receive treatment.
“In general she took a lot of time between points and that gave me a lot more time to think about what I was doing,” said 18-year-old Robson. In such a highly-pressurised environment, having the time to think is not always to one’s advantage.
Schiavone later put the shift in balance down to “a little bit of experience and a little bit of personalty”. She didn’t include a wink at the end of the sentence, but most got her drift. Schiavone did insist that she had a pain in her coming into the match. She had initially put it down to tension, but when it flared up in the sixth game of the first set, she felt that she had to get it treated.
Schiavone later admitted she was conscious of the need to slow the clash down. “She [Robson] wanted to be fast, and sometimes you have to stop a little bit more. But you have a lot of seconds [between games] and sometimes you have to use them. We often forget that because we are in a rush, but it’s important to play your best at the point, and not always be running and running.”