Baltacha victory adds to British feel-good factor
Wednesday 25 May 2011
Typical. You wait 17 years for a British woman to win a match at the French Open and then along come two together. Twenty-four hours after Heather Watson became the first of her countrywomen since 1994 to reach the second round here, Elena Baltacha also progressed with a 7-5, 6-2 victory over the American Sloane Stephens.
On a good day for Scotland – even if he was introduced to the crowd as an Englishman – Andy Murray also went through to the last 64, beating France's Eric Prodon 6-4, 6-1, 6-3. Britain will have three players in the second round here for the first time since Jo Durie, Anne Hobbs and John Lloyd in 1984.
Baltacha, 27, and Watson, 19, are at opposite ends of their careers, but the British No 1 has enjoyed the best run of her life in the last 18 months. With this victory, Baltacha has now won matches at all four Grand Slam tournaments. Clay has been the world No 83's most challenging surface in the past and her prospects did not look good when Stephens broke to lead 4-2. However, Baltacha went on to break her 18-year-old opponent's serve three times in a row to take the first set after 48 minutes.
Striking the ball with growing confidence, the Briton took command in the second set with an early break. She put a routine forehand in the net on her first match point but converted the second when she forced Stephens, the world No 143, into a forehand error. Baltacha should fancy her chances of further progress. She now plays another American, Vania King, the world No 115, who knocked out Dominika Cibulkova, the No 22 seed.
There were times against Prodon when Murray looked as uncomfortable as a kilted Scotsman in a wind tunnel, but not even the world No 124's unsettling stop-start tactics could blow Murray off course. Gilles Simon, Prodon's fellow Frenchman, had warned about his compatriot's unpredictability and shot-making ability. As the 29-year-old also had sore abdominal muscles and was suffering from gastro-enteritis it was hardly surprising that he attempted to shorten the points at every opportunity.
Prodon went for unlikely winners, changed the pace of rallies and sprinkled drop shots over the court as freely as a member of the ground staff topping up the red clay. Murray, who was unhappy with his movement, struggled to find his rhythm, though he never looked in danger of losing the match.
Murray muttered under his breath, shouted angrily in the general direction of his entourage and smashed his racket into his bag after he was broken when serving for the first set. "I was annoyed with the way I was moving," Murray said. "He was hitting a lot of drop shots from strange parts of the court. They were all pretty good. He is talented, but I just wasn't moving as well as I would have liked."
The world No 4 now plays Italy's Simone Bolelli, who has dropped from a career-high world ranking of No 36 to No 126. The Scot has won their only two previous meetings, most recently on clay in Madrid two years ago. Meanwhile Nicolas Almagro, the world No 12, who beat Murray here three years ago and was a potential quarter-final opponent next week, lost in five sets to Poland's Lukasz Kubot.
A much greater shock looked possible when Rafael Nadal went two sets to one down against John Isner. The world No 1, who is attempting to join Bjorn Borg as the only man to win six titles here, looked badly out of sorts, which clearly gave huge encouragement to Isner. However, the 6ft 9in American was unable to maintain his momentum and lost 6-4, 6-7, 6-7, 6-2, 6-4 after more than four hours. In his previous 39 matches here – only one of which he had lost – Nadal had never previously been taken to five sets.
Ana Ivanovic, who has not gone beyond the fourth round of a Grand Slam tournament in 12 attempts since winning the title here three years ago, was beaten 7-6, 0-6, 6-2 by Sweden's Johanna Larsson, the world No 64. Ivanovic has now gone out in the first round in four of the last seven Grand Slam events. Maria Sharapova had no such problems in a decisive 6-3, 6-0 win over Croatia's Mirjana Lucic.
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