There are good things ahead, insists Baltacha despite defeat

Let us hope this was not Laura Robson's future coming back to haunt her.

Even so, you would have to be fairly obtuse not to register the warnings implicit in the contiguous fortunes here yesterday of the British sport's blossoming young darling, and Elena Baltacha.

The two women would seem separated by an abyss in time and tide. At 27, Baltacha is a decade older, and the heady expectation now swirling about Robson has long since dissipated into the clarities of disappointment. As for the furlong or so that divided them, during their second matches of the tournament, it might be malignly extended to infinity.

For even as Baltacha was fatally losing the initiative, against Shuai Peng over on Court 18, she was being taunted by the rolling surf of noise and excitement saluting her young compatriot's insolent challenge to Maria Sharapova on Centre Court.

Yet Baltacha might be tempted to caution Robson that, for now, they retain rather more in common than the net result – they are both on their way home, after all – or the pluck they had shown, against the odds. For Baltacha had herself once strolled on to Centre Court as though to the manner born. At 18, she beat the world No 32, Amanda Coetzer, in the second round. That year, moreover, only Serena and Venus Williams served faster at the tournament.

But she has not managed back-to-back wins here since. Instead she has explored various physical and emotional fragilities, notably back injury and a liver condition. To that extent, her failure to close out a 4-2 advantage in the deciding set may seem a wearily consistent anti-climax. That, however, would do her a grievous injustice.

Instead she warrants praise for frequently giving the No 20 seed the run-around, and her ambition to break back into the world's top 50 – she arrived here as No 68, after a fleeting visit to No 49 last autumn – remains an entirely sober one. In aggression and athleticism, she has clearly flourished under Nino Severino, a coach with a background in karate and kick-boxing. Certainly some of the shots she played under pressure yesterday made it far too glib to attribute her capitulation to lack of backbone. She saved her first match point with a smeared forehand on to the far corner; and her second with a cobra of a first serve.

Ultimately, she could not pull off a third escape in what had become one of those doom-laden, attritional 12th games. But for much of the preceding two hours and 21 minutes, she had left Peng at the limits of her compact, resourceful game.

At 5ft 8in, Peng clings even to her forehand with a double grip. It is surprising that she has failed to devise a means of serving two-handed. Sure enough, Baltacha consistently deployed her powerful serve and forehand in wide arcs, to get Peng on the stretch. Every time she lunged, a hand came loose, the ball looped wanly into the air, and Baltacha came charging up to the net to put it away. It was pretty smart lawn tennis.

Her Chinese opponent, who emits an extraordinary, quivering moan with every shot, sometimes seemed to quail before all this rampant energy, and Baltacha's eyes were lighting up whenever Peng failed to avoid that sweeping forehand. In the end, however, she went for broke too often – and found Peng far too efficient. Peng scampered to and fro, fetching and carrying, and was so scrupulous in her coiled serve that she did not permit herself a single double fault. The bottom line was that Baltacha accumulated 29 unforced errors, and Peng just six.

Baltacha was unapologetic. "Peng gives you nothing," she said. "You really have to go for everything against her, and that's what I did."

In her very first service game, Baltacha pounded down four consecutive first serves, none of which made it back. In her next, she had to save three break points. She promptly did so and then, when the situation was reversed at 4-4, blasted a forehand right on to the remotest chalk in the court. But just as she seemed to have all the momentum, firing up the patriots and impatiently swatting winners, she suddenly faltered and the second set evaporated in no time. After that, the vacillations of the deciding set came as no surprise, and Peng won through 4-6, 6-2, 7-5.

If it can be so hard to predict what might happen from one game to the next, then few assumptions seem permissible over what an entire decade may hold for any player. At least Baltacha could bring a seasoned perspective to what happened, rightly professing no regrets. "I'm not distraught," she said. "Because I've been playing great tennis and I know that's going to continue. I'm proud that I'm now playing tennis like this on a consistent basis. I know there are good things ahead."

BUY WIMBLEDON TICKETS

Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent