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Page last updated at 09:09 GMT, Sunday, 16 January 2011

Australian Open: Elena Baltacha column

Australian Open, Melbourne
Venue: Melbourne Park Dates: 17-30 January
Coverage: Watch on BBC TV, Red Button, BBC Sport website & Eurosport; listen on BBC 5 live sports extra and online; text commentary online; full details

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Baltacha in the dark about opponent

By Elena Baltacha
World number 55 and British number one

I think a lot of players have a soft spot for the Australian Open and I have to say that I really am delighted to be back here.

Any time you can come back to a tournament where you've had good results, you always get a good feeling walking back into the place.

I've been in the third round twice in Melbourne and it's where I've had my best results at Grand Slams, so it's not really surprising that I'm very fond of it. The surface suits me really well but there is also a lot to like about the place, from the way they treat the players to some of the activities they lay on for fans around the tournament.

I played in a Kids Day mini tournament on Saturday and it was one of the best laughs I've ever had on a tennis court. How can you not giggle when you are facing Henri Leconte across the net, wearing a pink feather boa and making sheep noises when you hit the ball?!

Henri Leconte and Elena Baltacha
Fun and games with Henri Leconte in Melbourne

I guess you had to be there, but Australian players like Alicia Molik, Anastasia Rodionova, Peter Luczak and Pat Cash all took part, as well as some local celebrities and some really talented kids and we all had a great time. Everyone gets in free during the days when qualifying is on and loads of families came down to watch it all and take part.

It's great to see the seats packed with young faces and between the music, the dancers they had and Henri and his feather boa, I think everyone got the message that tennis can be fun and they should try it out.

Getting more kids playing - particularly girls - is something which is very close to my heart because, with some help from the Tennis Foundation, I have started The Elena Baltacha Academy of Tennis for primary school-age girls from some of the more deprived areas of Ipswich, where I train.

As a pro you have to take your tennis very seriously, though, and as soon as I had finished with the Kids Day it was back to the practice court to hit some balls. I had a really, really good eight-week training block in November and early December but I was in bed with flu for a week over Christmas and so the priority has been to get as much court time as much as possible.

I had two matches in Hobart earlier this week - the second one took three days to finish because of the rain - and, to borrow one of my coach Nino's sayings, I'm cooked.

I play American qualifier Jamie Hampton in the first round on Monday. I don't know much about her so I'll probably ask around and make a few phone calls to get some information about her, but she's come through qualifying so she's obviously playing well on these courts.

However she plays, it's about me going out there and delivering. You have to control the things you can control and I can't dictate how she plays, but I can control how well I play and how well I handle my emotions on the day.

I had another great practice on Sunday and I feel really ready, so it's just about trying to get the job done now.

Last year was a great year and it would easy to put pressure on myself by telling myself that I have something to live up because I'm coming in to the first Grand Slam of the year ranked 55 in the world.

I don't feel like that at all. I don't have anything to prove and in my mind I've given myself a fantastic platform to build on. That starts right here.



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see also
Elena Baltacha column
02 Sep 10 |  Tennis
Baltacha beaten in rain-hit match
13 Jan 11 |  Tennis
Baltacha into round two in Hobart
10 Jan 11 |  Tennis
Wimbledon slump rocked Baltacha
21 Dec 10 |  Tennis
Baltacha breaks into world top 50
14 Sep 10 |  Tennis


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