Defeat in Paris puts Baltacha's Olympic place in jeopardy
Keothavong handed the chance to take over British No 1 spot and claim Games wild card
The sun was out, the sky was blue, there was not a cloud to spoil the view, but it was surely raining, raining in Elena Baltacha's heart. Playing in the Olympic Games at Wimbledon this summer has long been one of the British No 1's major targets, but her chances of making the field are in the balance after her 6-4, 6-0 defeat by Sam Stosur on the opening day of the French Open here yesterday.
Currently the world No 68, Baltacha is likely to fall at least 10 places when the rankings are updated in a fortnight's time. Those rankings will determine the first 56 places in the 64-strong Olympic field. Two more places are awarded to developing nations and another six players are awarded wild cards.
If no British players make the field, one wild card – but probably no more than one – will almost certainly be awarded to the host country. The International Tennis Federation, which runs the Olympic tournament, would listen to any representations from the Lawn Tennis Association, but the likelihood is that the wild card would go to the highest-ranked Briton.
Baltacha's problem is that Anne Keothavong, the British No 2 and world No 81, can overtake her by winning her first-round match here against Melinda Czink, the world No 116.
That would be cruel on Baltacha, who has been British No 1 for more than two and a half years. She has also been a member of the British Fed Cup squad for the last 43 ties in succession dating back to 2002, a remarkable record, especially considering her health and injury problems over the years. Such loyalty surely deserves to be rewarded by the ITF, which runs the Fed Cup.
Laura Robson (world No 126), who is in the main draw here as a lucky loser after the withdrawal of the injured Silvia Soler-Espinosa, and Heather Watson (world No 110), who successfully negotiated the qualifying competition for the second year in succession, would both need an exceptional run over the next fortnight to overhaul Baltacha and Keothavong. In the first round Robson faces the world No 31, Spain's Anabel Medina Garrigues, who beat her in the second round of the US Open last year, while Watson plays the world No 80, Russia's Elena Vesnina.
Baltacha put a brave face on her situation. "What fate has in store for me it has in store for me," she said. "I'm not going to get my knickers in a twist over this. I want to play the Olympics, don't get me wrong. Yes, it's amazing and I want to be part of it. But at the same time I've given it my best. I knew I had points to defend here. I've given it my best to try to defend them. If I don't get a shot to play at the Olympics, then I don't get a shot and that's it. You move on."
Baltacha always knew she faced an uphill task. Stosur, the world No 6, is a fine clay-court player who lost in the final here two years ago.
The match opened the tournament on the main show court – on which Baltacha was playing for the first time – and was preceded by a fly-past by France's version of the Red Arrows, the Patrouille de France, who left a trail of blue, white and red smoke in the sky on a day of glorious unbroken sunshine.
Baltacha made a decent fight of the first set, especially after losing the first three games. The Briton has added some variety to her game and surprised Stosur with some clever slices and drop shots. She turned up the heat by breaking when the Australian served at 5-3, but Stosur played a solid game to break back immediately and take the set. Growing in confidence, Stosur dropped only nine points in taking the second set in just 23 minutes.
The grass-court season now beckons for Baltacha, who now heads for next week's Aegon Trophy at Nottingham. "Then Birmingham, Eastbourne, Wimbledon and then obviously, fingers crossed, the Olympics," she said hopefully.
Baltacha's disappointment notwithstanding, Britain's women have already made a mark with their presence here. Robson's entry into the main draw means that four British women will be playing in the first round – more than have competed at Roland Garros in any year since 1991, when there were six (Jo Durie, Sam Smith, Sara Gomer, Monique Javer, Sarah Loosemore and Clare Wood).
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