'Naff games' cost Baltacha £50,000

Eleven years have elapsed since Conchita Martinez denied Martina Navratilova a 10th Wimbledon singles title, but the Spaniard, on her day, is still capable of frustrating opponents.

Eleven years have elapsed since Conchita Martinez denied Martina Navratilova a 10th Wimbledon singles title, but the Spaniard, on her day, is still capable of frustrating opponents.

The 33-year-old from Monzon eliminated Elena Baltacha in the first round at the Hastings Direct International Championships here yesterday, after the British No 1 raised home hopes in the second set. Martinez then eased away to win 7-5, 2-6, 6-1.

It could be argued that Martinez denied Baltacha a £50,000 bonus, offered by the sponsors to any British player who reached the quarter-finals. But to have achieved that, Baltacha would have had to overcome Martinez and then Kim Clijsters, the former world No 1, in the second round.

Clijsters, who made the point that "Conchita has a tricky game on grass", was proved correct. The windy conditions were also tricky yesterday, particularly when the players tossed the ball and hoped it would still be there when they tried to serve.

Baltacha was almost swept away at the start of the match, losing the opening four games before breaking for 1-4 and then hitting a couple of aces to hold for 2-4. Baltacha struck again, breaking to 4-5 as Martinez served for the set, and then saving two set points to hold for 5-5. When serving to stay in the set at 5-6, however, Baltacha double-faulted on the fifth set point.

Baltacha put that disappointment behind her, won the opening two games of the second set and had a break point for 3-0. Even though Martinez broke back to 2-2, Baltacha had the confidence to restore her lead in the next game and broke again for 5-2 before levelling the contest on her third set point.

Unfortunately for the home crowd, Baltacha went down hill from there. Angry at herself for "playing three naff games" at the start of the final set, she lost two more before salvaging her pride by holding for 1-5 after saving three match points. Martinez converted the fourth in the next game.

"It's disappointing that I allowed the match to get away from me like that," Baltacha said. "But it's encouraging I could play to the level of a player of that standard."

Clijsters, competing on grass for the first time since losing to Venus Williams in the Wimbledon semi-finals in 2003, was delighted to win her opening match against the 20th-ranked Jelena Jankovic, of Serbia, 6-1, 7-6.

The Belgian seventh seed was also pleased to be pain-free after being handicapped by wrist and knee injuries recently, and thoroughly enjoyed the atmosphere of calm at Devonshire Park.

"At least the umpires here don't have to say 'quiet, please, the players are ready'," she said.

Jankovic, a finalist in Birmingham last week, struck the ball well with little reward in the opening set, which lasted only 23 minutes, and recovered well after losing the first two games of the second.

The 20-year-old from Belgrade had reason to question a baseline call with Clijsters serving to stay in the second set at 5-6, 15-15. But there was no over-rule, and Clijsters won the next three points to force a tie-break.

Jankovic, struggling to regain her concentration, lost the first six points of the shoot-out. "Whoops," she said, after walking to the wrong side of the baseline to receive serve on the seventh point. She won that one with a potent return, and the next, at which stage Clijsters finished the job, 7-2, after 70 minutes.

"I think it helped that I was here for a week practising," Clijsters said. "I arrived three or four days before the other players came and found it very relaxing."

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