Baltacha bows out to build on big break

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A Subdued Elena Baltacha bowed out of the Australian Open yesterday, but the feats that she has accomplished over the past week could prove the breakthrough that launches her into the higher echelons of the game.

A Subdued Elena Baltacha bowed out of the Australian Open yesterday, but the feats that she has accomplished over the past week could prove the breakthrough that launches her into the higher echelons of the game.

This time last year, the 21-year-old Briton was ranked No 387 in the world and was playing at a minor tournament in Hull, where she received £260 for reaching the semi-finals. Over the next 12 months, she leapt nearly 200 points in the rankings. Now, after reaching the third round at Melbourne Park, she is guaranteed a place in the top 130.

That puts Baltacha, who was beaten 6-1, 6-0 by Silvia Farina Elia, tantalisingly close to direct entry into the Grand Slams. She can take part in lower-tier WTA Tour events and, if she performs well in the coming months, could find herself in the main draw at the French Open, without needing to qualify or be given a wildcard.

Yesterday's drubbing at the hands of the No 15 seed was disappointing, but Baltacha was determined to return home with positive memories. She won three tough matches to qualify for a Grand Slam for the first time in her career, and then twice recovered from one set down - in both cases, against players ranked far higher - to reach the round of 32.

"I knew it was going to be a tough match," the British No 1 said of her 56-minute encounter with Farina Elia. "I didn't know how well she was going to play. Whatever I threw at her, she not only got it, but delivered it with interest. But I've had a superb week. I've had great fun. I'm going home with my head held high."

Baltacha said that such matches were "the only way I'm going to learn and improve". She is looking forward to working on the weaknesses in her game with her coaches, Jo Durie and Alan Jones. "I'm really sick of where I am at the moment," she said. "I know I'm a much better player. I've worked really hard for that."

She had never met such a high-ranked competitor outside of a grass court, and rated it a great experience. "She was just too good," she said of the Italian. "But it's exciting. That's the kind of level I want to get to." In the past week, she said, "I've realised what I'm capable of... I've dug deep and had results".

Farina Elia, who has taken part in 50 Grand Slams and reached the Wimbledon quarter-finals in 2003, outclassed her yesterday.

Baltacha managed to salvage only one game from a match in which she produced 32 unforced errors and won only 19 per cent of points on her second serve. She did not have a single break point against the 32-year-old Italian, and looked increasingly frustrated as the match on Show Court Two slipped through her fingers.

The Kiev-born Briton, who lives in Middlesex, is a big hitter with a fighting spirit. But she recognises that there are numerous deficiencies in her game. "I need to get quicker," she said. "I need to work on my serve. I need to work on the whole game." Short-sighted, she also plans to replace her spectacles, which hamper her on court, with contact lenses.

Because of her lowly ranking last year, Baltacha - who entered this tournament at No 185 - has no points to defend. A year ago, she began a comeback after time off because of a serious liver complaint. She is proud of the way that she has fought back up the rankings, having attained a career high of No 149 after reaching the third round of Wimbledon in 2002.

Now, after just the first two weeks of the season, she looks likely to ascend around another 60 places, possibly as high as No 125, when the new rankings are published early next month. Her goal, she says, is to reach the main draw of major tournaments, particularly Wimbledon, where she is in her element on grass.

In other women's matches, Serena Williams advanced to the third round in straight sets, as did the No 1 seed, Amélie Mauresmo, the US Open champion, Svetlana Kuznetsova, and the Wimbledon champion, Maria Sharapova.

The defending Australian Open champion, Roger Federer, extended his winning streak to a career record of 24 matches when Jarkko Nieminen retired at one set and 5-2 down. Marat Safin, the No 4 seed, twisted his ankle during his four-set victory over Mario Ancic, but said that his game improved after that.

The French Open champion, Gaston Gaudio, lost to Dominik Hrbaty. Andre Agassi, a four-times winner at Melbourne Park, had an easy win over his fellow American, Taylor Dent.

Australian Open tennis results from Melbourne

Men's Singles

Third Round: R FEDERER (Swit) bt J Nieminen (Fin) 6-3 5-2 ret; M Baghdatis (Cyp) bt T ROBREDO (Sp) 7-6 6-4 6-1; J JOHANSSON (Swe) bt F LOPEZ (Sp) 6-3 3-6 5-7 7-6 13-11; A AGASSI (US) bt T DENT (US) 7-5 7-6 6-1; M SAFIN (Rus) bt M ANCIC (Croa) 6-4 3-6 6-3 6-4; O Rochus (Bel) bt K Beck (Slovak) 6-7 6-1 6-4 6-2; D HRBATY (Slovak) bt G GAUDIO (Arg) 7-6 6-7 6-7 6-1 6-3; T JOHANSSON (Swe) bt K Kim (US) 3-6 6-2 6-7 6-2 6-2.

Women's Singles

Third Round: S KUZNETSOVA (Rus) bt M Diaz-Oliva (Arg) 6-3 7-6; V Douchevina (Rus) bt A-L Grönefeld (Ger) 7-5 6-4; S FARINA ELIA (It) bt E Baltacha (GB) 6-1 6-0; M SHARAPOVA (Rus) bt Na Li (Ch) 6-0 6-2; S WILLIAMS (US) bt S Mirza (Ind) 6-1 6-4; N PETROVA (Rus) bt M MALEEVA (Bul) 6-4 6-4; E Linetskaya (Rus) bt A FRAZIER (US) 6-3 6-4; A MAURESMO (Fr) bt A Ivanovic (Serb-M) 6-2 7-5.

Men's Doubles

Second Round: J Melzer (Aut) and A Waske (Ger) bt M Garcia and M Hood (Arg) 6-1 7-5; Yen-Hsun Lu (Taiw) and T Suzuki (Japan) bt G Galimberti and F Volandri (It) 6-3 6-2; M BHUPATHI (Ind) and T WOODBRIDGE (Aus) bt I Andreev and N Davydenko (Rus) 6-4 4-6 6-2; A Costa and R Nadal (Sp) bt J BENNETEAU and N MAHUT (Fr) 7-6 4-6 6-2; A Calatrava and D Ferrer (Sp) bt I Labadze (Geo) and R Wassen (Neth) 4-6 6-1 6-4; W BLACK and K ULLYETT (Zim) bt C Haggard and R Koenig (SA) 7-6 6-2; S ASPELIN (Swe) and T PERRY (Aus) bt R Leach and B MacPhie (US) 3-6 7-5 6-4; J BJORKMAN (Swe) and M MIRNYI (Bela) bt S Huss and P Luczak (Aus) 7-5 6-1; J Blake and M Fish (US) bt J I Chela and S Prieto (Arg) 6-3 6-2.

Women's Doubles

Second Round: D Hantuchova (Slovak) and M Navratilova (US) bt T Musgrave and C Wheeler (Aus) 6-2 6-0; M Sequera (Ven) and M Tu (US) bt L Dekmeijere (Lat) and N Miyagi (Japan) 6-2 6-2; S KUZNETSOVA (Rus) and A MOLIK (Aus) bt M Ani (Est) and F Pennetta (It) 6-0 6-3; M Bartoli (Fr) and A-L Grönefeld (Ger) bt L RAYMOND (US) and R STUBBS (Aus) 1-0 ret; E DANIILIDOU (Gr) and N PRATT (Aus) bt T Garbin (It) and T Krizan (Sloven) 6-4 6-3; A MYSKINA and V ZVONAREVA (Rus) bt B Stewart and S Stosur (Aus) 7-6 6-7 7-6; E DEMENTIEVA (Rus) and A SUGIYAMA (Japan) bt B Sekulovski and C Watson (Aus) 6-3 6-3; J Lee (Taiw) and Shuai Peng (Ch) bt J Jankovic (Serb-M) and A Kapros (Hun) 7-6 6-3; G Navratilova and M Pastikova (Cz Rep) bt J Hopkins and M Washington (US) 2-6 6-4 6-3; Chia-Jung Chuang (Taiw) and R Fujiwara (Japan) bt J Husarova (Slovak) and E Likhovtseva (Rus) 6-7 6-1 7-5; DAVENPORT and C MORARIU (US) bt A Bondarenko (Ukr) and E Gagliardi (Swit) 6-4 6-2.

Mixed Doubles

First Round: M Hood (Arg) and M Vento-Kabchi (Ven) bt L Bourgeois and S Ferguson (Aus) 7-6 6-2; M Damm (Cz Rep) and E Callens (Bel) bt P Hanley (Aus) and C Morariu (US) 6-3 7-6; P Vizner (Cz Rep) and N Pratt (Aus) bt N Healey and E Dominikovic (Aus) 6-1 6-4.

seeded players in CAPITALS