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."

A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
Dawkins: 'There’s a very interesting reason why a prince could not turn into a frog – it's statistically too improbable'
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Malky Mackay salutes the Cardiff fans after the 3-1 defeat at Liverpool on Sunday
footballFormer Cardiff boss accused of sending homophobic, racist and messages
Rodgers showered praise on Balotelli last week, which led to speculation he could sign the AC Milan front man
Life and Style
life – it's not, says Rachel McKinnon
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

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

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home