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   Monday, 13 January, 2003, 04:17 GMT
Baltacha exit ends British hopes
Elena Baltacha
Baltacha's Australian Open was over in 66 minutes

Britain's sole interest in the Australian Open failed to last beyond the first day after Elena Baltacha was blown away by 15th seed Alexandra Stevenson.

Baltacha was Britain's only hope in the first Grand Slam of the year after the injury-induced withdrawals of Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski.

It's given me good experience of the standard

Elena Baltacha

But the 19-year-old, who made the third round of Wimbledon last year, could not cope with the awesome power of her opponent and lost 6-1 6-4.

Stevenson, who has only once before made the second round at Melbourne Park, peppered Baltacha with aces and left her flat-footed and frustrated with her searing passes.

Baltacha, who has been sidelined since October with illness, was guilty of making crucial errors at crucial times.

She fell a break down in the first set after double faulting on her own advantage and then in the second, having fought back valiantly to level at 3-3, she double faulted again to hand Stevenson three break points.

"The last 18 months have been very difficult," said Baltacha, who suffered liver damage from taking too many antibiotics for tonsilitis.

'Amazing support'

"I have had tonsillitis five times, chickenpox twice, food poisoning and six weeks ago I had my tonsils taken out.

"And shortly before I came here last month, I also suffered flu and a heavy cold. Until coming here, my last singles tournament was in October.

But Baltacha thanked tournament organisers for giveing her a wild card - adding that she had learned from the experience.

"I'm really lucky to be given the wild card," Baltacha acknowledged.

"For me it's given me good experience of the standard.

"It's a shame Tim and Greg aren't here but it was really exciting and the British support was amazing. I can't believe how many came over."

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