BRUSSELS, Belgium - Surgery, rehab, finding her range again in Fed Cup and on the ITF Circuit - it was all worth it. Elena Baltacha made a winning return to WTA-level competition at the Brussels Open on Monday evening, beating Stefanie Voegele in an extremely close two-setter in the first round.
After playing the Olympics on home turf last July, a foot injury kept Baltacha out of action for eight months - she had to undergo surgery and grind it out in rehab during that time. In April she returned to the match courts, playing Fed Cup for Great Britain and some ITF Circuit tournaments.
"My operation went really smoothly, my rehab was quite quick, and I trained for about three weeks before I played my first event back in early April," Baltacha said. "The last four weeks have been brilliant. Representing Great Britain in Fed Cup against Argentina was a massive plus, considering it was only the second week I was back - but Judy thought I was in good enough shape for it and I really have to thank her, it was a big confidence boost. And then last week at an event in France I qualified and got some matches bagged, which showed I could play consistent tennis from day to day."
Baltacha, a former World No.49 but now down at No.234 due to the inactivity, was given a wildcard into Brussels this week and made full use of it on Monday, riding her momentum from the last month and edging World No.58 Stefanie Voegele in just a minute shy of two hours, 76(9) 75, rallying from 5-3 down in the first set - and a set point in the tie-break - and 5-2 down in the second set too.
"It was just pure heart and pure effort," Baltacha said afterwards. "I was a break down in the first set and managed to claw my way back and win it in a very, very tight tie-break. And I was 5-2 down in the second set but it was only one break - I just held tight and stepped up when I had my opportunity.
"I had a game plan for her, mainly just playing my game and attacking whenever I could, but I also think when you play someone ranked so much higher than you, you really have nothing to lose. You can go out there and just swing freely. I just tried to stay positive and kept on trying to attack."
And the competitive fire seems to be burning stronger than ever inside the former British No.1.
"I really missed competing - that was probably the biggest thing I missed," Baltacha said. "When I came back, no one expected me to do anything. But the matches I've had the last couple of weeks have really helped. I've come back with a completely different attitude. I really missed the one on one competition. I'm enjoying it more and more. I feel lucky to be back. It's a real honor to be back."
The only seed in action on Day 1 was No.7 seed Varvara Lepchenko, who missed out on three match points in the second set tie-break and then had to battle back from a break down in the third set to make it past Bojana Jovanovski in a two-hour, 37-minute marathon on Center Court, 62 67(8) 64.