Keothavong and Baltacha banish last year's ghosts with gutsy wins
British duo ensure no repeat of first-round exits but Murray is again last man standing
Wednesday 22 June 2011
It was not quite the moment to proclaim a national holiday or to stage street parties in every town and village, but for Elena Baltacha and Anne Keothavong it was a day to savour.
Twelve months ago, at the worst ever Wimbledon for home players, the two Britons had left Court 12 in despair after squandering winning positions in their first-round matches. Whether the referee's office here is staffed by sadists or whether officials saw it as a chance to bury painful memories is hard to know, but the two 27-year-olds must have felt their hearts skip a beat when they saw yesterday's order of play, with both returning to the scene of their meltdowns.
Thankfully for the sanity of Britain's two best female players of recent times, both responded in the best possible fashion by winning. Keothavong knocked out her fellow Briton, Naomi Broady, 6-2, 6-4, while Baltacha beat Germany's Mona Barthel 6-2, 6-4.
If these were matches they should have expected to win – Keothavong (world No 111) is ranked 102 places higher than Broady, while Barthel was giving 46 places to Baltacha (No 68) – both women had to put the past behind them. Twelve months ago Baltacha lost to Croatia's Petra Martic after serving for the match in the second set, while Keothavong lost to Australia's Anastasia Rodionova after leading 4-0 in the final set.
Lawn Tennis Association officials might have thought things could not get worse after Baltacha and Andy Murray were the only two Britons through to the second round two years ago, but last year's performance by home players plumbed new depths. Baltacha and Keothavong were among seven Britons who lost in the first round, leaving just one – Murray – to fly the flag.
No wonder Baltacha said that yesterday's victory, which takes her beyond the first round for the fourth Grand Slam tournament in succession, was "very satisfying". She added: "I felt I was playing two people out there. I was playing Barthel and I was playing my demons from last year here. It's unbelievable to have won, especially on the same court, after everything that went on last year."
Baltacha made a strong start as her 19-year-old opponent struggled to cope with a blustery wind. Having taken the first set, the British No 1 made the decisive break in the second to lead 3-2. When she served for the match at 5-4 and trailed 15-40, Baltacha might have had momentary visions of last year's nightmare but kept her nerve, belted two big backhand winners and closed out the victory when Barthel missed a backhand. Baltacha now plays China's Peng Shuai, the world No 20.
When Keothavong saw that she had been scheduled to return to Court 12 she "just laughed". The former British No 1 did her best to erase memories of last year by sitting on the other side of the umpire's chair and telling her friends and family to sit in different places in the stand.
The standard of the tennis was patchy, but Keothavong took charge after saving a break point in her opening service game. Keothavong won the first set with something to spare, though the second was tighter. While Broady left the court in tears, Keothavong was able to enjoy her moment in the sun. "It's nice to banish the memories I have of last year on that court and replace it with other ones," she said.
Broady, 21, was playing in her first Wimbledon, while her opponent was making her 11th appearance, although this was only her third victory. She now plays the Czech Republic's Petra Kvitova, a semi-finalist last year and fancied by many as a dark horse for the title.
There is no doubt that the pressures on British players here have grown after the recent disappointments. Nigel Sears, the head coach of women's tennis at the LTA, said: "I fully appreciate that with this tournament being on our own doorstep it means the world to everybody in British tennis. People say 'It's just another Grand Slam tournament', but we all know that it's much more than that. I'm sure it would help the players if they could regard it like that, but I suppose that's not realistic."
Laura Robson and Heather Watson, Britain's best two teenagers, did not get on court because of the length of earlier matches, but Emily Webley-Smith came close to rounding off a good day for the British women when she pushed Klara Zakopalova hard before losing 6-3, 5-7, 8-6. Webley-Smith, who at No 244 is ranked 209 places behind her Czech opponent, fought back from 2-4 down in the final set and had two points to break for a 5-4 lead, but Zakopalova held on before closing out the match.
It was a fine performance by Webley-Smith, who went on a 26-week round-the-globe trip over the winter to minor tournaments in India, Dubai, Australia, China, South Africa and Japan in search of the ranking points that eventually earned her a wild card here. Being out of the game for six months after suffering deep vein thrombosis following a trip to Australia two years ago clearly did not put her off.
Murray was left as the only home player in the men's singles after James Ward, Dan Evans and Dan Cox all lost. Ward went down 6-3, 7-6, 6-3 to Michael Llodra (world No 35), Cox was beaten 6-2, 6-4, 6-4 by Sergiy Stakhovsky (No 46), while Evans gave a good account of himself despite losing 7-6, 7-6, 3-6, 6-4 to Florian Mayer (world No 18).
The draw did little favours for the British trio, but it is now five years since a home male player granted a wild card has won a match here. Indeed, since Tim Henman won his last Wimbledon match in 2007 the only other victory posted by a British man at the All England Club other than Murray was three years ago, when Chris Eaton came through qualifying to beat Boris Pashanski. Thank goodness for the man from Dunblane.
Andy Murray (world ranking: 4)
First round: Beat Daniel Gimeno-Traver (Sp), (ranked 59) 4-6, 6-3, 6-0, 6-0
James Ward (ranking: 192)
First round: Lost to Michaël Llodra (Fr), (ranked 35) 6-3, 7-6, 6-3
Daniel Cox (ranking: 273)
First round: Lost to Sergiy Stakhovsky (Ukr), (ranked 46) 6-2, 6-4, 6-4
Daniel Evans (ranking: 301)
First round: Lost to Florian Mayer (Ger), (ranked 18) 7-6, 7-6, 3-6, 6-4
Elena Baltacha (ranking: 68)
First round: Beat Mona Barthel (Ger), (ranked 114) 6-2, 6-4
Heather Watson (ranking: 106)
First round: Will play Mathilde Johansson (Fr), (ranked 70) today.
Anne Keothavong (ranking: 111)
First round: Beat Naomi Broady (GB), (ranked 213) 6-2, 6-4
Naomi Broady (ranking: 213)
First round: Lost to Anne Keothavong (GB), (ranked 111) 6-2, 6-4
Katie O'Brien (ranking: 215)
First round: Lost to Kimiko Date Krumm (Japan), (ranked 57)6-0, 7-5
Emily Webley-Smith (ranking: 244)
First round: Was drawn against Klara Zakopalova (Cz Rep), ranked 35.
Laura Robson (ranking: 254)
First round: Faced Angelique Kerber (Ger), ranked 77.
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