British No?3 Elena Baltacha joined a casualty list of five failed home hopes for the International Women’s Open at Eastbourne when a back spasm injury finally curtailed her bid to qualify for a first-round place.
Wimbledon wild-card holder Baltacha is still confident she will be fit for the Grand Slam first round but had to retire after losing the first set 7-5 to world No?40, Bulgarian Tsvetetana Pironkova, having earlier beaten Kent left-hander Naomi Cavaday in straight sets.
Yorkshire’s Anna Fitzpatrick crashed out 7-6, 6-3 to Russian Ekatina Makarova while Hertfordshire’s Amanda Elliott lost 2-6, 6-2, 6-4 to Paraguay’s Rossana Del Los Rios.
Georgie Stoop, domestic No?8 from Cambridgeshire and ranked a lowly 379 in the world, made a brave fight against late entry Estonia’s Kaia Kanepi – 34 on the WTA computer – before going out 6-7, 6-1 7-5.
With British No?1 Anne Keothavong playing in the Ordina Open in Holland, it leaves wild card entries Katie O’Brien and Melanie South to carry home hopes in the £300,000 south coast event where world No?4 and former Eastbourne title-holder Svetlana Kuznetsova is top seed following the late withdrawal of reigning No?1 and French Open winner Ana Ivanovic.
It was hoped that Ivanovic, the new Serbian golden girl, would step into the retired Justin Henin’s shoes on the south coast as well as at Roland Garros, but the French Open success apparently overwhelmed the 20-year-old who, having promised an Eastbourne debut, then said her first Grand Slam triumph had left her with not only a bruised thigh but also mental exhaustion.
Mariona Bartoli is second seed but is a doubt with a wrist injury which hindered her last week at Edgnbaston Priory.
Lindsay Davenport, who retired for a year at 31 to have her first child, and Amelia Mauresmo, who has slipped down the rankings with a string of injuries and some sad defeats, are both back but only with outsiders’ chances.
O’Brien who won four matches to reach the second round last year and is just a few places below Keothavong – the world No?92 – starts against Australia’s Samantha Stosur today while South waits to meet a qualifier on Monday.