Watson and Baltacha lift British women's hopes

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The Independent Online

After last year's lamentable performance by British players at Wimbledon, when Andy Murray was the only home player to progress beyond the first round, the Lawn Tennis Association might take heart from the fact that there will be at least one Briton through to the last 64 here this week.

Even if the unthinkable were to happen and Andy Murray were to lose today to Daniel Gimeno-Traver, the pairing of two Britons in the women's singles ensures that either Anne Keothavong or Naomi Broady will be playing in the second round. Last year, for the first time in the 134-year history of the championships, only one Briton – Murray – made it over the first hurdle of singles competition.

James Ward, Dan Cox and Dan Evans all face major challenges in their first-round matches against Michael Llodra, Sergiy Stakhovsky and Florian Mayer respectively, but there is good reason to expect more of the six British women in the firing line.

Laura Robson, the 2008 junior Wimbledon champion, could fancy her chances against Germany's Angelique Kerber, though the best prospects of home success – the all-British first round match notwithstanding – appear to lie with Elena Baltacha and Heather Watson, who are both in the top 100 and in fine form. Baltacha (world No 68) meets a qualifier, Germany's Mona Barthel (No 114), while Watson, who drops out of the top 100 to No 106 in today's updated ranking list, faces Mathilde Johansson (No 64).

Watson, the 2009 US Open junior champion, has made big strides in recent months. "From January it's gone really well," she said. "I started the year well and have had some consistent performances and I've gained a lot of experience. My first Grand Slam last year was Wimbledon and since then I've played every one. I just want to keep improving."

What did she think was behind her improvement? "I'm just staying focused, having fun and enjoying what I do. Lots of people put too much pressure on themselves and try to work too hard without sitting back and seeing we're playing tennis as a living. It's fun."

If Watson continues her progress she could overtake Baltacha later this year. "It's a little rivalry between us," Watson said. "It's fun fighting for that top spot. But I'm more focused on myself and the bigger picture and competing against the world."

Keothavong, a former British No 1, beat Broady at Nottingham recently in her first match on grass this year. "I'm feeling a lot better about my tennis then I was a couple of weeks ago," she said. "I've had a lot of practice since then. I'm clear about my game plan and so I'm feeling good about my first round match.

"I'm really excited about coming back to Wimbledon again. This is my home event and the best tournament in the world. It's always very exciting to come here and I just want to go out there, give it my all."