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Baltacha shows Olympic spirit to win as surgery looms

Great Britain's Elena Baltacha returns against Agnes Szavay.
by Alix Ramsay
Saturday 28 July 2012

What a way to go. If this is, indeed, to be Elena Baltacha’s farewell to tennis, she could not have picked a bigger stage or a better moment to wave goodbye. Judging by the huge smile and the look of sheer joy on her face after she brushed aside Agnes Szavay 6-3, 6-3 to reach the second round, nothing will ever compare to this moment: Baltacha is an Olympian, just like her dad.

It was a couple of years ago that the Scot first suggested that she might make the Olympic Games the grand finale to her long career. But as the months passed and her ranking improved, she began to have second thoughts. If she was injury-free and still enjoying the nomadic lifestyle of a professional player, why stop? By the time she was waiting and hoping for a wild card into the Games, she had abandoned all talk of retirement. But then, just when it seemed that life could get no better after her first Olympic win, she admitted that this week might be her last on tour, after all.

She has a small bone spur in her right ankle and a similar problem with her left foot. Surgery is required but that means six months off and a lot of long, laborious rehab work. With her 29th birthday just a couple of weeks away, such a long time away from the tour may well mean the end of her career.

“With the six months, I want to go on a little bit of a break,” she said. “Obviously, I have an academy with the girls at home in Ipswich.

I really want to spend some time with them, see what that is like, being at home a little bit more. Then, if I feel after the surgery that I want to come back, I will come back.  If I feel I enjoy life at home, I really want to give my academy my full attention, then I might stop.

“I think it's just smart if I protect my ranking, take the six months, and then I'll be back in February. Fingers crossed, I'll be back in February.”

The surgery has been pencilled in for some time before the US Open but until then, Baltacha is very much a part of the Games and she and her mum are loving every minute of the experience.

Her mum, Olga, just missed out on the 1980 Games. At the time, she had earned her place on the Soviet modern pentathlon team but when the moment came, she had to turn it down to stay at home and look after her young son, Sergei. Her husband, Sergei Senior, was not on hand for babysitting duties as he was part of the Soviet football team and came home with a bronze medal. The Olympic torch burns brightly in the Baltacha household and Elena is as proud as punch to have carried it to SW19.

“For me, it's so special because obviously the history with my family,” she said. “My dad an Olympian, my mum was selected but couldn't go, to add myself to the Baltacha history, it's really lovely.”

As for Olga, she is living the Olympic dream vicariously through her daughter – and watching her win on the opening day of the tournament was an unforgettable moment. “She has absolutely loved it,” Baltacha said. “I'm so happy that she's here to kind of experience it with me and to really enjoy it. I love the fact she's here.”

What she would love even more is a place in the third round but that would mean getting past Ana Ivanovic. The former world No.1 and French Open champion disposed of Christina McHale in the opening round and, on paper, ought to be the favourite against the Scot. But buoyed by her win over Szavay and with absolutely nothing to lose, Baltacha fancies her chances.

“I think with Ana, when she's playing at her best, she's a very good player,” Baltacha said.  “Very dangerous.  Big serve, big forehand.

If she is not playing well, there's a lot of weaknesses. It depends what Ana turns up. I'm going to be fighting, really swing for it, see what kind of damage I can cause her.”

Spoken like a true Olympian. Spoken like a true Baltacha.

The London 2012 Olympic tennis is taking place at Wimbledon. Visit the ITF Olympics site for full scores, draws and the London 2012 site for video content, venue and schedule information.

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