Baltacha's recovery rallies home faithful

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The Independent Online

Devonshire Park was in full bloom, the tents of the East Sussex Fire Brigade and Bioflow Magnotherapy were on site, and the sun even shone, briefly, but the first day of the grandly named Britannic Asset Management International Championships was, nevertheless, low key. The most manageable asset, Anna Kournikova, who adorns (in every sense) the tournament's advertising, is absent injured, and the biggest draws, Lindsay Davenport and Martina Navratilova (who is only in the doubles), play today and tomorrow respectively.

The best the organisers could come up with for the centre court was therefore two qualifying matches involving British women, and they had reason to be grateful to Elena Baltacha for recovering from a set down to beat Virginie Razzano 3-6, 6-1, 6-1. The Frenchwoman finished the match limping badly, but was on her way to defeat, at 1-5 in the final set, before sustaining a thigh injury. There was confusion all round as she limped to the net, apparently to concede, before deciding to carry on to a bitter but predictable end.

That performance earned the 17 year-old Scottish-Ukrainian the official Aspray and Gerrard Player of the Day award and a silver necklace designed by Jade Jagger, no less. More importantly, victory over an opponent ranked 90th in the world confirmed her improvement this season, which included a good week at Surbiton a fortnight ago. Baltacha, daughter of the former Dynamo Kiev and Ipswich Town footballer Sergei, counts a win there over Jennifer Hopkins (ranked 73 at the time) as the best of her career and has now earned the chance to better that today in spectacular fashion against the former Wimbledon champion Conchita Martinez.

There will be no more chances, however, for Hannah Collin. The 1999 national champion, still only 19, lost 4-6, 7-6, 6-4 after serving for the match against Selima Sfar, of Tunisia, whose (unpunished) audible obscenities and profanities must have shocked some of the more elderly Eastbourne patrons.

This morning, the British No 1, Louise Latimer, begins the centre court programme against Elena Likhovtseva. Later in the day Davenport, the top seed, will make her bow against Anne-Gaelle Sidot, who yesterday reprised her Wimbledon victory of last year over the Czech Republic's Daja Bedanova.

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