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Watson takes up mantle after Baltacha tributes

A FLIP of a coin seemed as appropriate a tribute as any to the life of Elena Baltacha.

THUMBS UP: Heather Watson after making short work of Ajla Tomljanovic, winning 6-3, 6-2. Picture: Matthew Stockman/Getty
THUMBS UP: Heather Watson after making short work of Ajla Tomljanovic, winning 6-3, 6-2. Picture: Matthew Stockman/Getty

The Kyiv-born Scot's sudden death from liver cancer in May at the age of 30 was marked by a simple, poignant ceremony on Centre Court before the commencement of yesterday's play, with Elle Robus-Miller, a nine-year-old from the Elena Baltacha Academy of Tennis in Ipswich, performing the toss with Marion Bartoli, the winner of last year's ladies singles.

It was a timely reminder that the Frenchwoman is not the only competitor from last year posted sadly missing.

Baltacha played a dozen times in the main draw at SW19, making it beyond the first round on no fewer than six occasions, so perhaps it was equally fitting that her friend and former Fed Cup team-mate Heather Watson should prove capable of carrying on her mantle and joining Andy Murray and Naomi Broady in the second round. They might yet also be joined by Tara Moore, who fought back to take her match against 2010 finalist Vera Zvonareva to a third set, with the denouement to take place this morning.

Like Baltacha, Watson has had no shortage of problems to overcome in her tennis career. Her 2013 season was decimated by glandular fever but the former US Open Junior champion is fit again and closing in on a return to the world's top 50.

Staring back at her from the other side of the net, in tennis terms at least, was her mirror image. Ajla Tomljanovic, a 21-year old Croat who now resides in Florida, has also been soaring through the rankings after a bout of glandular fever.

But despite watching the odd fusillade from the Tomljanovic racket thud past her, it was Watson who prevailed, her 12th win in her last 15 outings secured with some comfort. This was all the more remarkable considering that it was achieved despite a recent inability to get a good night's sleep, and nerves severe enough to see her jaw lock whilst she attempted to eat a banana. Instead, it will be Tomljanovic who will be having sleepless nights after a deceptively simple 6-3, 6-2 defeat.

"I was a bit nervous going on to court," Watson admitted. "I struggled to eat before I go on, my jaw was locking and I couldn't even bite through my banana.

"I didn't sleep that great last night either," she added. "I woke up at 4am and I was ready to go. Then I looked at my clock and I was like 'oh'. I actually managed to get back to sleep, then woke up again at 7am. But my alarm wasn't till 9am.

"Now it's just normal that I don't sleep well. My fitness coach asked me how I slept. I told her, and she said 'I'd actually be worried if you had said you slept well'."

Another British woman who could have been forgiven a night-time apparition or two was Samantha Murray, the World No.247 from Stockport, who faced the task of stopping Maria Sharapova in her tracks. Her quest to reclaim the crown a decade after she took it as a 17-year-old is the narrative of the ladies singles this year, but while the Russian teenager was announcing herself to the world, the closest her opponent was getting to the big time was a summer job in the Wimbledon accreditation office. After she failed to capitalise on a couple of break points, this 6-1, 6-0 victory only served to rubber stamp Sharapova's credentials. "I had a few chances on her serve the first game," said Murray, who has an uncle Andy. "And the third game as well. I couldn't just quite convert them."

Sharapova said that she still felt the same as she had as a teenager a decade ago. "I guess the mentality changes a little bit," she said. "As a 17-year-old, you've never really been to the locker room, walked through certain tunnels, or played on certain courts. Now you know every corner."

Elsewhere in this half of the women's draw - with the exception of Jelena Jankovic, who crashed out to Kaia Kanepi - the usual suspects were experiencing little in the way of discomfort. World No.1 Serena Williams sailed through 6-1, 6-2 against Anna Tatishvili, with Canada's Eugenie Bouchard, Romania's Simona Halep and Agnieszka Radwanska granted similarly easy passage.

While it must have been jarring for Sabine Lisicki to be confronted by the presence of Bartoli on her return to where she suffered a meltdown on finals day 12 months ago, the popular German beat Julia Glushko of Israel by a 6-2, 6-1 score.

The only tears on Centre Court yesterday were of joy and of remembrance.

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