British number one is ready for the roar

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Elena Baltacha can’t wait to hear the roar of the Devonshire Park crowd at this year’s AEGON International.

The country’s number one female tennis player will be spearheading the British charge at Eastbourne this year, and after a good run at last year’s competition Baltacha is hoping to do even better this time around.

She said, “I’ve always really loved Eastbourne but after playing really well there last year, it kind of makes it even more special.

“The courts are always beautiful and it’s a lovely town. I live in Ipswich, so I think there must be something about being by the sea that I like!” “As a tournament, the AEGON International has an amazing history and it’s always attracts world class players, so if you do well there you have to be playing really, really well.

“That’s why it meant a lot for me to beat a couple of top ten players (Na Li and Zheng Jie) and make the quarter-finals last year.

“It gave me a lot of confidence for the rest of the season and it’s one of the reasons why I broke into the world’s top 50 a couple of months later.”

Baltacha, 27, has since slipped out of the top 50 but still sits a respectable 74th in the world, and knows that a similarly good run at Eastbourne this year could push her back to where she wants to be in the rankings.

While she admits to being more modest with her expectations, there is still a clear desire in Baltacha to leave a legacy in the sport she loves.

Baltacha added: “I really look at it as baby steps. A realistic target is obviously to get back in the top 50 and I’d love to do something big at a grand slam, I’d love to make the second week.

“Everyone who’s young has got a dream and there’s no reason why you can’t dream. Every junior wants to be number one in the world and to win grand slams, and why not?

“When you get older you start thinking realistically maybe that’s not possible, but there’s always things you can dream about. If you don’t, you’re not going to achieve anything.

“I absolutely love it, probably the most I ever have. I love everything that goes with it - travelling, experiencing different cultures, meeting wacky people and just going on court and working really hard. I’m very privileged to be able to do that.

“It’s hard to put into words how special it is to play in front of your home crowd. I definitely find it inspiring and I’ve played some of my best tennis in front of British crowds.

“When you hear a big roar it definitely gives you a lift and makes you fight even harder. We’re very, very lucky that we get to experience that.

“Then when you walk around Devonshire Park in-between matches, people are so lovely and they always come up and wish me luck. I love that.”

LEFT: Elena Baltacha