Baltacha gains revenge for SW19 meltdown

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The Independent Online

Court 17 is about as far from the main show stadiums as you can get here at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, but Elena Baltacha's elation at winning there yesterday was evident. Playing in the main draw at the US Open for the first time, the British No 1 beat Petra Martic 6-2, 6-2 to earn sweet revenge for her defeat to the 19-year-old Croat at Wimbledon earlier this summer.

Baltacha had failed seven times to qualify for the year's final Grand Slam tournament, but did not have to go through those agonies this year thanks to her rise up the world rankings. The world No 57 has been playing the best tennis of her life in the last 12 months and was clearly determined to make the most of the chance to complete her collection of appearances at the four Grand Slam events.

The crowd, sitting on two rows of benches on either side of the court, barely reached three figures. Court 17 sits on the edge of the grounds here and just 10 yards away, beyond the perimeter fence, children were playing in the public park.

An adjacent parking lot could have been a greater distraction, but nothing was going to divert Baltacha from her task. The match was played under clear-blue skies and rapidly rising temperatures, but Baltacha said afterwards that she had been so focused that she was unaware of the heat.

Two months ago Baltacha went into Wimbledon as one of the few Britons expected to win at least one round. She served for a straight-sets victory over Martic only for nerves to get the better of her.

This time there was no looking back from the moment the Briton broke in the third game. The 27-year-old's booming serve and big forehand had her opponent on the back foot throughout. Martic, hurling her racket to the floor and slamming the ball into the back netting, looked a beaten player from an early stage.

Baltacha broke again in the seventh game and served out for the first set, punching the air in celebration after cracking a big forehand winner. The second set followed an identical pattern before Baltacha secured victory after 65 minutes when Martic hit a forehand long.

"Obviously, losing to her at Wimbledon was very difficult to take, because I was two points away from the match," Baltacha said afterwards. "I took that loss quite hard and there were a lot of things to get over after that match, but it was one of those things that was either going to make me or break me. I think I learnt a lot of things from that match and it helped a lot today."

Baltacha will be only the second British woman to play in the second round here since 1997, Anne Keothavong having reached the third round two years ago. She now plays Petra Kvitova, who reached the semi-finals at Wimbledon but has had a miserable time since. The world No 29 had lost five first-round matches in succession before her victory yesterday over Lucie Hradecka, a fellow Czech.

Kim Clijsters, the defending champion, beat Greta Arn 6-0, 7-5 and Victoria Azarenka survived a second-set wobble to beat Monica Niculescu 6-0, 5-7, 6-1. Melanie Oudin, who enchanted her home crowd 12 months ago with a run to the quarter-finals, beat Ukraine's Olga Savchuk 6-3, 6-0.

Andy Roddick brought further cheer to Arthur Ashe Stadium with a 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 victory over Stephane Robert, while Robin Soderling, the world No 5, was given a scare by the world No 214, Andreas Haider-Maurer, a 23-year-old Austrian making his first appearance in a Grand Slam tournament. Soderling had match points in the third set, but the big-hitting Haider-Maurer, who struck 34 aces, fought back impressively. Soderling eventually won 7-5, 6-3, 6-7, 5-7, 6-4.