Davenport back in line of duty

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The Independent Online

While the Devonshire Park audience seized the first prolonged chance to work on their tan yesterday, Lindsay Davenport took the opportunity to work on her fitness, and pronounced herself delighted. Her victory, 6-3, 6-2 over Anne-Gaelle Sidot in the second round of the Britannic Asset Management tournament, was her first competitive match for three months. And the top seed would like an extended run this week to reacquaint herself with the lawns and help prove she is completely over a recent knee injury.

"It did not bother me at all today, so the more matches I can play the better," she said. "It is the longest I have ever been out and it seemed like an eternity. Paris was the first Grand Slam I have ever missed and I definitely did not want to miss Wimbledon."

It was Funny Hats Day, though few of the ladies present (or even the gentlemen) seemed to have bothered with fanciful dress. On centre court, the two Britons, Elena Baltacha and Louise Latimer, both wore what turned out to be funerary dark outfits for unsurprising defeats by women much higher in the rankings.

Baltacha, having come through the qualifying rounds with an impressive victory over Virginie Razzano, understandably found the 1994 Wimbledon champion Conchita Martinez a very different proposition and did well to take three games from each set of a physically demanding baseline match. Nervous at the start, she soon learnt that too many unforced errors would be swiftly punished ­ as they were.

"It was an unbelievable experience and I enjoyed it," said the 17-year-old. "I have never played anyone with that high a ranking before and I gave it my best shot." What that shot is will become clearer as her game develops, but Martinez was complimentary: "She has a very good serve and is hitting the ball pretty hard."

Latimer, who has slipped from a ranking of 107 at the start of the year to 161, served as strongly as the Muscovite Elena Likhovtseva in the first set and only lost it, 7-5, after missing an open goal with the whole court to aim at.

An early break in the second set proved a falsely optimistic portent, as did Likhovtseva's official warning for hitting a loose ball into the stand. Latimer went out tamely in the end, double-faulting to concede the set 6-3.

Today, Martina Navratilova is expected to pull in the crowds ­ with or without hats ­ when she partners Spain's Arantza Sanchez-Vicario in a first-round doubles match against the Spaniard Magui Serna and France's Sandrine Testud.