Tennis: Laura Robson and Heather Watson victories ensure changing of the guard for British women

 

The changing of the guard at the top of British women’s tennis is all but complete.

While Elena Baltacha lost to Ana Ivanovic in what could prove to be the last singles match of her career, Laura Robson and Heather Watson, the two young guns firing their way up the world rankings, both won their first-round contests in emphatic style here in the Olympic tournament today.

Robson recorded a 7-6, 6-4 victory over the Czech Republic’s Lucie Safarova, who at No 23 in the world is the highest-ranked opponent the 2008 junior Wimbledon champion has ever beaten, to earn a second-round meeting with Maria Sharapova.

Watson, who at No 69 in the world rankings is already the British No 1, beat the world No 63, Spain’s Silvia Soler Espinosa, 6-2 6-2 and now faces Maria Kirilenko. With Baltacha and Anne Keothavong out of the singles tournament, Watson and Robson join Andy Murray as the three home players through to the second round.

After barely a quarter of an hour Robson was leading 5-1, but what was even more impressive was the way the 18-year-old steadied her nerves after Safarova had recovered to level at 5-5. Robson went on to win the tie-break 7-4, broke to lead 5-4 in the second set and served out for victory after saving three break points with unreturned serves.

Robson, who has regularly demonstrated how much she loves the big occasion, relished the support of the boisterous crowd, who sang an impromptu version of the national anthem during the warm-up.  “You definitely wouldn't have that at Wimbledon, but it was very funny,” she said. “After every point they were pumping me up.  In general they were just a lot louder than what you get used to at Wimbledon. This is more of a US Open‑type atmosphere.”

Watson, who needed just 69 minutes to win her match, is also relishing the chance to take part in the Olympics, her only regret being that after spending some time in the athletes’ village last week the British team have relocated to the Wimbledon area.

“The first few days we were there, I had so much fun,” Watson said.  “I love that sort of stuff, meeting the other athletes.  I just love talking to them about their sport, the things they have to do. I'm pretty good at just talking to random people, meeting people I've never seen or don't know before.  I made a few new friends.”

Watson, a bubbly personality who barely seems to keep a smile off her face away from the court, said she had spoken to Roger Federer yesterday morning. “That was cool – he was playing cards,” she said. “I just said: ‘Are you winning?’  Then he said: ‘Of course’.”

Baltacha was beaten 6-4, 7-6 by Ivanovic, the world No 12, in a match that turned on just a few crucial points. The 28-year-old Briton is set to have ankle surgery next month which will keep her off the court for at least six months. “I would like to come back but 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,” she said.

Federer beat Julien Benneteau 6-2, 6-2, while Lleyton Hewitt became the only Australian to win a singles match here when he beat Sergiy Stakhovsky 6-3, 4-6, 6-3. Sam Stosur, who recorded the only singles victory by an Australian at the recent Wimbledon Championships, and Bernard Tomic, losing his seventh match in a row, both went out in the first round.

Andy Roddick continued his improvement after an injury-troubled year by beating Slovakia’s Martin Klizan 7-5, 6-4 and Richard Gasquet, a potential third-round opponent for Murray, eased to a 6-3, 6-3 victory over Robin Haase, of the Netherlands.

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