Wednesday 13 March 2013
Dogged by injury and demoralised, former British No.1 Elena Baltacha thought that 2012 might be her last Wimbledon. But after recovering from an ankle operation and rediscovering her love of the game, Baltacha tells Wimbledon.com how much she is looking forward to being back again this summer...
As Elena Baltacha walked off the lawns at last summer's Olympic tournament at the All England Club, she thought her career was over. She had lost some of her love for the game, and she needed an ankle operation, so by the time the Closing Ceremony began, she had retired; she was a former tennis player. But Baltacha has changed her mind about retirement, and next month she will begin her second career, with her ambition to reach the second week of a Grand Slam. The former British No.1, who hopes to receive a wild card into this summer's Championships at Wimbledon, believes she is capable of making the last 16.
On her ambitions and her regrets:
"I'm coming back because I feel as though I hadn't finished as I wanted to. I've got a lot of regrets. When I finish this time, I want to finish my way. My regrets? I feel as though I could have developed myself. I want to finish my career really enjoying it and loving it. That's how it should be. I honestly believe that there are lots more things that I can achieve. One of the main reasons I decided to come back is because I want to get to the second week of a slam, maybe at Wimbledon. I think I'm capable of that. That's probably my biggest goal. I feel as though I could have done that before. I think my mindset wasn't what it could have been. There were areas which Nino[Severino, her coach] tried to get me to work on, and I understood why, but I didn't quite want to do them to 100 per cent."
On ending her first career at the All England Club last summer:
"I quit after the Olympics. That was it. As soon as I had finished my last match, I thought, 'that's it, I'm done, yeah'. I didn't make any public announcement. Nino knew. I guess that was why I was quite emotional afterwards. And that was why I was so emotional before the Olympics because I really wanted to play. I was very happy. It was done, and I was happy with what I had achieved. As far as I was concerned, I was finished. I knew I had to have a surgery. That was why I thought I had retired. I didn't think I could stomach going through the rehab. I didn't think I could do it."
On how she hopes to take more pleasure from her second career than from her first:
"The problem when you're young on the tour is that you're constantly striving - week after week. You get yourself in a rut. That happens to every player. I've played for 10 years and I've had on and off injuries, and I think you get stuck in a trap when you're grinding it out. Every week, you're just grinding it, grinding it. You go through through highs when you're thinking, 'yeah, I'm loving it' and during the dips you thinking, 'I'll keep pushing through it, I'll keep pushing through it'. I just kept going and going. And then, the last phase for me was that I knew I was going to have surgery at one point, so I knew that I couldn't just carry on. The last year and a half, I kept thinking, 'I need to fight through this, I need to keep on going'. But I found the more I pushed, the less hungry I was. I was just plodding along. My hunger wasn't there, my motivation fell. Slowly, you lose some of the love you felt for the sport."
On how players work themselves into a panic:
"When you're on the tour you're constantly thinking of the ranking points. You never step back and look at the bigger picture. And say to yourself, 'relax, take two weeks off, it's not about going from week to week to week'. You think you have to grind, that that's the way to get through a lull. And some of the time that's true, you should pull your finger out. But you're worrying so much about defending your points, and about other girls coming up behind you. You shouldn't be worrying about that. Too many players panic too much."
On how a trip to Egypt with one of the players at the Elena Baltacha Academy of Tennis inspired her to return to the tour:
"And then I started working with this girl. We went to a few tournaments together, and watching her play, I would be thinking, 'thank god that's not me, having to wake up to get ready for a match'. I was remembering what that felt like. And then I went away to Egypt with the girl and that trip kind of spun it for me. That changed a lot of things. Every night I was ringing Nino - my phone bill was about 500 quid when I got home. What was amazing was that when I was saying stuff to her, I was almost saying it to myself. I was talking to her about all the things she was going through, and stuff about the matches, and the things she needed to improve on. I was saying to Nino, 'I can't believe it. This is why I didn't go further in my career. Now I understand why you wanted me to do certain things.' It was a joke, it was ridiculous. I suddenly understood why I was weak at certain things, and why I couldn't push further than 50 in the world. I was seeing it from someone else's eyes. When you're an athlete, you only see it your way, you're very blinkered. I was trying to learn how to become a coach - that's an art - and to help this girl. But the person who benefited the most was myself. I came back from the trip and said to Nino, 'I'm not 100 per cent sure but I think I want to give it a go'. Nino said, 'oh, bloody hell, I thought I was done with you'."
On her return next month, which could see her playing in Britain's Fed Cup tie in Argentina:
"I want to start again on the clay. I'm just not sure which tournaments to play first, which level will be best for me. With my protected ranking, I get eight tournaments and I can pick one slam. I'm going to pick Paris. Fingers crossed, I will get a wild card into Wimbledon. And if I'm not in the main draw for the US Open, I will go into qualifying."
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