By Ros Satar
(May 28, 2013) You could be forgiven for thinking you were sitting in another first round winner’s news conference, but the joy of being able to compete at the top tier was evident for Elena Baltacha, despite a 6-2, 6-0 defeat to Marina Erakovic.
Elena Baltacha has been through more in a tennis career than most people experience in their lives, suffering from a chronic liver condition and constant injury issues.
After the London 2012 Olympics, Baltacha knew that she needed surgery on her ankle, and took 9 months off the tour, but despite yesterday’s defeat, she was pleasantly upbeat and enthused.
Of her first round match, she said: “I started quite well, but she was guns blazing everywhere.
“I think on the whole she just played an unbelievable match, and I just couldn’t hurt her with anything today.”
There is no doubting Baltacha’s resolve – analyzing Erakovic’s playing form – but alas Erakovic went off script in a late-scheduled match due to the rain disruptions.
Baltacha returned to the tour on clay (ITF- Pelham, USA) but had to retire with cramp during a three-hour match.
But it was at Great Britain’s Fed Cup tie against Argentina that gave her a boost.
“Obviously getting picked to play at Fed Cup was brilliant – that gave me a lot of confidence knowing that Judy was very confident in playing me.
“When your captain says I think you’re ready to go after only banking one match, that gave me a lot of confidence and I knew I was playing very well.”
There was nothing but heart in that match, but as it crept to a third set, you had to feel that the momentum would slide.
But as comebacks go, that match set down a marker.
“Am I going to grumble in my 6th tournament back? – No.
“It’s going really well – It’s going to happen and that’s it.”
Making use of her protected ranking helped, and can be used for eight tournaments and one slam throughout the year, from when she rejoined the tour in April 2013.
“It’s not a bad point to start off with I think,” she said.
“I’ve got points to defend – I’ve got quite a few coming up but then after what would have been the Olympics (July) I have nothing to defend until April so it would give me a good run.
“I have to be careful, I’ve got to be smart as to where I am going to use my protected [ranking].”
Ranked now at 200, it must be hoped/assumed that the AELTC would consider Baltacha for a wildcard for Wimbledon, hence her decision to use her Slam protected ranking here.
She explained: “Just initially on the comeback, [to] feel like part of that main draw again and also on the clay see what I can do.
“A lot of the girls are brought up on clay and qualifying is always very difficult here.
“I thought it would be quite good to have a pop at main draw.”
LTA coach Louis Cayer has now come on board Baltacha’s training regime, an she credits him with helping her improve her game.
“He’s added a lot of amazing things to my game.
“I know definitely I’m a better player than what I was before so I just have to keep chipping away at that and I know it will come good in the end.”
Of course returning to the tour after a break of nine months gave rise to some amusement.
She joked: “It’s been brilliant catching up with some of the girls, being on that scene again, hitting with he girls and rubbing shoulders again.
“Some players are like what’s happened to you, I haven’t seen you for like nine months.
“I was thinking what can I make up – see how far the rumour spreads.”
And when talk turned to the grass season, the level of enthusiasm was genuine – she is very excited to get the grass shoes on again, and try out the new aspects of her game.
Her plans include Nottingham, Eastbourne and Wimbledon.
Baltacha is approaching everything with a renewed focus that only comes from being given another chance in a job you love.
“I think if you’re not careful you can just get into that grind-it-out mode week to week.
“You can just take for granted what you have – lose that love for it, and I think that’s what happened to me.”
The path ahead is not going to be easy, but if anyone has the resolve to do it, all again, Elena Baltacha does and with that much enthusiasm – she’ll outlast us all.