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Tuesday, December 11, 2012
HER first forehand return across the net oozed power and accuracy, it was like Elena Baltacha had never been away.
The 29-year-old returned to the tennis courts for the first time in five months last week, with the enthusiasm of an excited child on Christmas Day – beaming like a Cheshire cat – enthused and refreshed.
The former British number one is firmly back in the zone and ready to live, breathe and sleep tennis once again. However, it was almost so different for the Ipswich-based player.
Time away from the court gave Baltacha time to reflect and, for a period, playing tennis was the last thing she wanted.
“Having time away has been so good for me from both a mental and physical point of view,” revealed Baltacha.
“I did not realise how tired I was and as a player you find you are living off adrenaline week in, week out.
“After so many years of playing tennis you finally hit a wall and right after my final push at the Olympic Games (Baltacha narrowly lost in the second round to Ana Ivanovic), I did not want to get on any more planes or travel to any more tournaments, I just wanted to be at home.”
She initially put off her ankle surgery to spend time on the road with former protege Eden Silva, who has since left the Elena Baltacha Academy of Tennis (EBAT).
It was during that time that the Great Britain Fed Cup captain lost and then regained her appetite for the sport in which she had devoted 15 years of her life.
“When I started travelling with Eden, I was still practising with her and playing a bit but, after watching her first game, I was glad it wasn’t me playing out on the court. I felt so tired, I just thought “forget it”.
“I was watching Eden from a coach’s perspective, not a player’s, and during that time it made me realise where I felt short as a player, where I went wrong, why I could not push certain things and what my weaknesses were.
“But once I had undergone surgery I decided that after the journey with Eden, and having watched the young girls at the academy, I maybe should give it another go as I had unfinished business.”
Baltacha bowed out after her defeat to Ivanovic at the 2012 Games, having endured a mixed year up to that point. She had performed well with the Fed Cup team but made first and second round exits respectively from the US Open and Wimbledon.
“I wanted to come back because I had banked so much experience and felt I needed to finish differently,” admitted Baltacha.
“I have got the hunger back and that is a big help. Otherwise you are stuffed.
“I am coming back but I don’t feel like I have a point to prove or have any pressure on me. I don’t need to rush and I can develop tennis-wise.
“In the past I have looked to change aspects of my game but it has always felt a bit rushed as having got in the right condition, I have then maybe only had a window of two weeks or so to implement anything new.
“I felt like I was having to cram things in before and realistically, how much can you implement in two weeks, especially when points are at stake?”
Fitness and form permitting, Baltacha’s first big tournament back could be Indian Wells in California, which starts in March, before the French Open in May.
“I am going to see if I can return in March but if I don’t make it, then it could well be April, playing in the clay tournaments,” she said.
“Indian Wells is a strong tournament and will probably be too much for me but why not give it a go? It is one of my favourite tournaments in one of my favourite locations.
“I can’t wait to get back. Once again I feel like my days revolve around tennis.
“I miss the competition, that gladiatorial conflict and I believe I have got another couple of years left yet.”