Brave Baltacha takes fight to Dokic as British challenge crumbles

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The Independent Online

It is a toss-up who put more effort in their afternoon's work yesterday: Elena Baltacha, who produced a spirited performance before losing in three sets to Jelena Dokic. Or the turnstile operator who guides departing British losers out of the All England Club.

Both had hectic afternoons. Baltacha spent an hour and 40 minutes battling with Dokic, the No 11 seed, taking the middle set impressively before going down 6-3, 1-6, 6-4. She need have no regrets about her defeat and with more important things to worry about - an imminent biopsy on her liver, for example - she probably won't.

The turnstile operator had his work spread out. After seeing Baltacha off the premises shortly after 2pm, he had a quiet spell before rush hour. Richard Bloomfield, a 20-year-old from Norwich, was eliminated at 3.43pm. Martin Lee, the British No 3, went at 3.53pm. Mark Hilton went two minutes later and Julie Pullin was knocked out two minutes after that.

There was a short break for the turnstile man to have a cup of tea before Jamie Delgado lost to Andre Agassi at 4.20pm. Alex Bogdanovic then lost at 6.25pm and when Jane O'Donoghue followed him out after losing in straight sets to Marlene Weingartner, of Germany, all the British women had been eliminated in the first round for the first time in the Open era. Eight exits in an afternoon, five of them in a 37-minute spell. Record-breaking stuff.

Without doubt Baltacha gave the feistiest display of the British wild cards. After losing the first set, she stormed through the second 6-1 then lost the third.

"It was always going to be a tough match," said Dokic, who has struggled for form of late. "Elena played good tennis. I'm just happy to get this one out of the way. I've worked on my game a bit more before coming here although I don't think that was a problem [lately]. The problem was more mental, that I was losing matches ... But psychologically I played a good game today."

The match, played at pace and full of entertaining rallies, eventually tipped in Dokic's favour in the 10th game of the third set. Baltacha was broken to love. "My serve kind of let me down there," she said. "But it was a good match and I thought I did well today."

Next stop for Baltacha, who reached the third round here last year but has struggled with illness since, is the hospital. The 19-year-old is still none the wiser about what precisely has led to her persistent episodes of extreme fatigue but she confirmed: "I've got liver damage."

A biopsy six weeks ago did not provide detailed answers so more tests will follow.

"I don't know what it's called when they put a camera into the pancreas and into the liver," she said, matter of factly. "It's an unpleasant test but it has to be done." She added that another sample of her liver will be removed for analysis. "Some days I just feel tired when I wake up and never know when it is going to be," she said.

While Baltacha took a set from Dokic and two of the other vanquished Britons (Delgado and Lee) did likewise. The others all went down in straight sets.

Hilton lost to Younes El Aynaoui, of Morocco, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4. Bloomfield lost to Anthony Dupuis, of France, 6-4, 7-6, 6-3. Pullin bowed out to Lina Krasnoroutskaya, of Russia, 6-3, 6-1. Bogdanovic provided little resistance to Sargis Sargsian, of Armenia, before losing 6-1, 6-3, 6-2.

Lee, ranked No 332 in the world, threatened an upset over David Ferrer, of Spain, the world No 76, after taking the first set 6-1. But as Ferrer found his touch, Lee's consistency deserted him and the Spaniard eased the next three sets to progress 1-6, 6-3, 6-1, 6-2.