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Baltacha's Blockage: Australian Open Reflection

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 22:  Elena Baltacha of Great Britain plays a backhand in her third round match against Dinara Safina of Russia during day five of the 2010 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 22, 2010 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
Cameron Spencer/Getty Images
Antony HerbertAnalyst IIIFebruary 1, 2010

One of the success stories in the Australian Open was British women’s number one Elena Baltacha, for the second time in her career reaching the third round of the down under tournament.

On her way to her debut performance on the Rod Laver court she defeated another seeded player, who oddly enough was the sister of the seeded player she defeated at Wimbledon last year.

So the girl has to be commended for reaching this stage in a Grand Slam for the third time with one appearance also at Wimbledon.

It was deemed unlikely before she approached the court for her third round tie that she would be able produce her finest grand slam performance in reaching a fourth round berth, especially when her opponent was recent world number one Dinara Safina.

And on court it proved a little too much with both the player on the other side and the enormous pressure of the occasion evidently becoming a bit too much for the Scottish star. She unravelled in a depressing fashion, undoing the spectacular scenes of round two.  

Yet it wasn't the first time that Elena has choked in similar fashion to her lacklustre display against Safina. The tournament itself seemed in retrospect to echo her Wimbledon display last year.

In that tournament she also managed to dethrone a seeded Bondarenko sister amongst a barrage of fabulous winners and powerful serving, before then proving to us that she is still unable to take results one step further in the following round where she provided more of a crumbling image than one of my dad’s own rhubarb specialities.

Unforced errors became common in both tournament exits, and double faults seemingly elevated to beyond expected levels.

We can take heart in the fact that she now has positioned herself in the undeniable role of Britain’s best current hope for results in the women’s game. This is a role she is likely to hold onto until the likes of Laura Robson and Heather Watson come into their own on the WTA circuit and begin producing the sensational and exciting displays both have shown at a Junior level.

We can hope however that Baltacha before the end of her career, can actually produce a Grand Slam display worthy of her own credentials, and worthy of her best tennis which if produced at a consistent level could easily see her ranking climb into the top fifty.

Sadly time is running out with Baltacha expected to have only a handful of years remaining before age becomes a factor. It remains to be seen how many opportunities will remain but she is surely more than half of the way through her on court years.

All eyes will be on her at Wimbledon this year as she will no doubt aim for that fourth round fixture that we know she is capable of.  The element her support now needs to work on is handling the nerves of massive occasions to which Elena is not yet comfortable to compete in, and enable herself to produce tennis to the level seen against both Bondarenko sisters in the previous twelve months.

We have always had a star in the making with Elena, and now that injuries that plagued her early career are behind her, she has the opportunity to succeed.

It is up to her whether she will allow herself to overcome the blockage that appears to halt promising results.

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