As one door closes another opens. While Heather Watson’s unavailability is a setback for Britain’s hopes of winning their Fed Cup promotion play-off away to Argentina next week, Elena Baltacha’s return to competition after a nine-month absence with injury will give a timely boost to Judy Murray’s team.
Watson, who has glandular fever, was missing when Murray named Laura Robson (world No 39), Johanna Konta (No 154), Anne Keothavong (No 184) and Baltacha (No 209) in her squad for the tie in Buenos Aires from 20-21 April. The winners will join the World Group, in which Britain have not played for 20 years.
While Britain have an edge in world rankings - Argentina’s top four players are Paula Ormaechea (world No 145), Maria Irigoyen (No 203), Florencia Molinero (No 239) and Mailen Auroux (No 328) - the home side will have the advantages of a passionate crowd and their choice of playing surface (clay). “Of course we will miss having Heather with us in Buenos Aires, but we are fortunate to have strength in depth and a great mix of youth and experience,” Murray said.
Britain may have to rely heavily on Robson, who this week replaced Watson as British No 1, but Konta performs well on clay, Keothavong has just won her first tournament for 17 months at an International Tennis Federation event in France and Baltacha will today play her first match since the Olympics.
Baltacha, who was British No 1 only 10 months ago, had an ankle operation in October and has worked hard on regaining fitness. She is playing this week on clay in Pelham, Alabama, where her first opponent will be Canada’s Sharon Fichman.
At first undecided as to whether she would even attempt to resume her career, 29-year-old Baltacha rediscovered her appetite for competition while doing some coaching last autumn. She believes that taking a lengthy break has helped her to look at her sport in a more positive frame of mind.
“I just feel that I’m in a great situation to have this opportunity again,” Baltacha said. “I know that not many players would have this chance. I’m very excited to be coming back.”
After the Fed Cup Baltacha plans to play in Virginia, Nice and Prague before heading to the French Open, where she will get into the main draw with a protected ranking following her injury lay-off. In the longer term she hopes to improve her ranking sufficiently to earn direct entry into next year’s Australian Open.