Elena Baltacha column

Elena Baltacha
Baltacha lost to Justin Henin in last year's Australian Open

Most players will tell you that they love the Australian Open and I'm the same - outside of Wimbledon, this is definitely my favourite Grand Slam of the season.

Obviously the surroundings are lovely because you get to play somewhere that's mostly warm and sunny and in front of people, here in Australia, that just love their sport and are very enthusiastic and knowledgeable.

It's more than that though, because I think the Australian Open represents a new start to a lot of players, and I definitely feel like that.

It's the first big tournament of the year and all you're thinking about is how hard you worked in the off-season and how much you want to achieve in the year ahead of you.

For me, November and December was the best pre-season training block I've ever done.

The idea is that, over six weeks, you build to a peak and then taper down ready to start competing - which I guess is the same for a lot of athletes.

We started in November - when you're still a bit knackered from the season before - with light hitting and gym work, then week by week the workload just got bigger and bigger until, for the last week, I flew in a very experienced hitting partner from La Manga Club in Spain to hit full out and really push me.

By the time we got on the plane to Auckland on Boxing Day I was raring to go.

It's been great for my coach Nino and I have got to work with Judy Murray a little bit in the last few weeks as well, since she took on her role helping the British girls as our Fed Cup captain.

I guess a lot of people just think of her as 'Andy's mum' and of course she loves her boys and is proud of them, but her record as a coach speaks for itself.

I've played in a lot of her squads and camps because she was head coach of Scottish Tennis when I was coming through so we've known each other for years.

Judy came to Auckland and Hobart to watch all of us who are in the Fed Cup team, and to scout opponents, and I'm sure we've all benefitted from her advice. She's a great laugh as well.

I was a bit unlucky to run into the very experienced Flavia Pennetta in the second round n New Zealand but I played well against her before I went to a very windy Hobart and lost to Irina-Camerin Begu in what felt like a force-nine gale.

It was one of those matches that is best forgotten because you can't read a lot into it either way.

I'll probably learn a lot more about where I'm at from my match against Stephanie Foretz Gacon, who I play in the first round of the Australian Open on either Monday or Tuesday.

I know there is a potential second round match with Kim Clijsters and while it would be brilliant to play Kim again, I'd be daft to get ahead of myself.

Whatever happens this week I will feel like I'm on the right track. The Australian Open is always just the beginning.

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