Double joy for Elena Baltacha after change of fortune
Opponent's injury leads to first-round win and Briton earns wild card for Olympics
After a career dogged by illness and injury, nobody in tennis deserved a change of luck more than Elena Baltacha. Yesterday the 28-year-old had two strokes of good fortune. Not only did an injury to her opponent help her reach the second round, but she also learned that she had been given a wild card into this summer's Olympic tournament.
On a day when two of her fellow Britons, Laura Robson and Johanna Konta, let slip leads to lose in three sets to seeded opponents, Baltacha beat Italy's Karin Knapp 4-6, 6-4, 6-0 to earn a second-round meeting with Petra Kvitova, the Wimbledon champion. Knapp suffered a heavy fall early in the second set, after which her movement was clearly hampered.
There was even better new for Baltacha when she left the court, following the announcement of the fields for the Olympic tournament, which begins at the All England Club just 20 days after the end of Wimbledon. Baltacha and Anne Keothavong, the British No 1, were both granted wild cards, as were Heather Watson and Robson in the doubles. The only home players who qualified by dint of their world rankings were Andy Murray in the singles and two men's doubles pairs, Murray and his brother, Jamie, and Colin Fleming and Ross Hutchins.
For Baltacha the news ended an agonising wait. One singles wild card had always been expected to be given to Britain, but when Keothavong ended Baltacha's long reign as national No 1 on the very day when entries were decided earlier this month it seemed that she might miss out.
Baltacha, the world No 50 at the end of last season, has had another injury-troubled campaign and is now No 101 in the world rankings. Having reached the second round here on five previous occasions she would have fancied her chances against Knapp, who had lost in her only previous match at Wimbledon, five years ago.
Having broken to lead 4-3 in the first set, Baltacha lost a marathon eighth game and then the first set. Knapp took the first two games of the second set but when Baltacha wrong-footed her on break point in the next game the 24-year-old Italian slipped and appeared to hurt her thigh. She resumed after lengthy treatment but kept sending for the trainer thereafter.
Baltacha quickly took charge of the second set, after which there was a further delay as both women had treatment, the Briton for a problem with her left leg. Nevertheless, it was Baltacha who appeared to be suffering less and she took the third set with comparative ease.
Konta was on court for a total of three hours and 10 minutes before finally going down 6-7, 6-2, 10-8 to Christina McHale, the world No 32. Their match had been halted at 7-7 in the deciding set because of bad light on Monday evening. Having waited 17 hours to resume, the players had time for only one more game, Konta holding serve to go 8-7 up, before rain forced them off again for an hour.
When they returned the 21-year-old Konta twice went within two points of victory, but McHale held for 8-8 and then made the decisive break. The American went 0-40 down when she served for the match as Konta went for broke with some big returns, but McHale, a scrapper who rarely misses, held her nerve.
Konta, who was given British citizenship last month after spending the first 14 years of her life in Australia, kept going for her shots but repeatedly missed the target and McHale took the match by winning the next five points.
Robson was beat 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 by Francesca Schiavone, the 2010 French Open champion. The 18-year-old Briton made a flying start, winning the first set in just 25 minutes, upon which the Italian left the court for treatment to a back problem. Although Robson started the second set well enough, her failure to break when Schiavone served at 2-3 and 0-40 proved crucial.
Having levelled, Schiavone raced into a 5-1 lead in the decider, only for Robson to stage a late rally. The Briton got back to 5-4 and saved four match points, one of them with a superb forehand down-the-line winner, but on the fifth she could not put her return of serve back in court.
Robson said she had not been adversely affected by the injury break but added that Schiavone had taken a lot of time between points.
"I think that's really tough," she said. "That gave me more time to think about what I was doing."
Watson will meet Jamie Hampton, of the US, today after becoming the first British woman to win on Centre Court for 27 years when she beat Iveta Benesova, the world No 55, on Monday. Watson said she had "slept horribly" following a late finish.
"I couldn't get to sleep," she said. "My phone kept going so I had to switch that off. And then I woke up at 5am. I don't know why that was. I was exhausted when I woke up."
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