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Wins for Robson and Watson but battling Baltacha denied

Laura Robson and Heather Watson discuss tactics
by Alexandra Willis
Monday 30 July 2012

It seems strange to think that at one point, there was the very real possibility that Team GB would not have a competitor in the women's singles at the London 2012 Olympic tennis. At the time of the rankings cut-off, which co-incided not so neatly with the French Open, all four of Britain's leading ladies were outside the rankings cut off, and there was much speculation about who would be given what wild card, or 'ITF place' to use their correct name. 

As it turned out, Elena Baltacha and Anne Keothavong were awarded ITF places in the singles, recognition for their home nation status, and the fact that they have not only alternated between flying the flag as Britain's No.1 and No.2 for almost a decade, but that they've been stalwart Fed Cup competitors during that time too. Then, as players withdrew through injury, first Heather Watson and then Laura Robson, who had both moved up inside the top 100 as a result of their grass court results, also sneaked in. 

And how the Brits have lived up to their roles here at Wimbledon. There has been a merry conviviality about the British camp this week, the team staying in the Olympic Village together during the build-up, mastering the art of 'to pin', and embracing the Olympic experience wholeheartedly. 

That drive and purpose shone through as Watson and Robson won their debut singles matches within minutes of each other, much to the largely British crowd's delight.

Robson had warmed up against world No.23 Lucie Safarova on Court 17 last night, only to be told the surface was too slippery just as they were about to start. Returning to Court 18 today in brilliant sunshine, the British 18-year-old wasted no time to roar into a 5-1 lead, only to find herself pegged back to 5-5 by the solid Czech. Down 15-30 on a serve, it was a moment Robson has been all too familiar with. Showing extraordinary promise, only to find herself thwarted right at the end. But this time, she didn't. Urged on by the home crowd, she saved break points to send the set into a tie-break, and made the most of a Safarova double fault to sneak the breaker 7-4.

Staying with Safarova the whole way through the second set, it was Robson who seized the opportunity to break to lead 5-4, and served her way into a second round meeting with Maria Sharapova. 

"I think I just started really, really well," Robson said. "It's always tough to keep up that sort of level. So at 5-all I was just thinking, go for a few more percentage first serves, just make her win the point, just stay in there for as long as possible. That's what I did."

And Robson feels she's come some way since playing Sharapova at The Championships here at Wimbledon last year.

"I think in general I've worked really hard on improving everything and I think I've done that. But she's playing some of the best tennis of her life. It's definitely going to be a tough match. But I've got nothing to lose going into it, so all I can do is fight as hard as I can and try and play as well as I can."

Minutes earlier, Watson, who didn't even make it on court yesterday, had completed a rather easier 6-2, 6-2 victory over Silvia Soler Espinosa of Spain, the British No.1 proving again the dogged determination and all-court acumen that has seen her rise to a career-high ranking of No.67. 

"It was a lot of fun. The crowd were amazing," Watson said. "I think the match went well, it was a bit windy out there, tough conditions. But I though I served well and I didn't give her anything." 

With three British women into the second round, and the fourth, Anne Keothavong, unlucky not to have made it after putting up a credible fight against Caroline Wozniacki on Saturday, it was up to Baltacha to see if she could prolong her stay at the Olympic tennis by taking down Ana Ivanovic. 

And how she battled. 

Baltacha, who had revealed that this could well be her last competitive tennis match, left everything on Court 18 as she clung onto Ivanovic's game for two hard-fought sets, saving four match points before eventually surrendering 4-6, 6-7(5). It was a vintage Baltacha performance, the kind which we will sorely miss. 

"There were a few tears," she said afterwards. "Obviously, it was a big occasion and I have worked really hard to earn my spot here. I was upset about the match but I feel great. I really gave it everything I had.

"There were a lot of people here today, the home crowd were amazing. I was getting goose pimples, to be honest. The support was amazing so thank you very much."

Later in the day, she returned to No.2 Court alongside Anne Keothavong, the pair producing another battling display against Julia Goerges and Anna-Lena Gronefeld, in what was likely to be their last doubles match together. 

"I need to have the surgery otherwise I can't carry on with the foot the way that it is," Baltacha said. "I'm going to do the rehab and see how it goes. If I'm ready to come back in February then I will come back. The way that my mind is at the moment, I would like to come back. If it change then I won't."

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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