Tennis Chiefs Mount Strong Defence after Britain Sinks to a New Low; All but One of the Home Hopes Are out but the LTA Insist the Sport Is Not in Such Bad Shape. by David Smith and Chris Jones

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Byline: David Smith and Chris Jones

BRITAIN'S worst performance at Wimbledon in the Grand Slam's 133-year history is "not representative" of the state of the game here, say the Lawn Tennis Association.

World No4 Andy Murray is the sole British survivor in this year's grasscourt event after seven compatriots fell by the wayside in the first round.

The LTA plough nearly [pounds sterling]60million a year into the national game but defeats on Monday and Tuesday for Jamie Baker, Elena Baltacha, Katie O'Brien, Anne Keothavong, Melanie South, Laura Robson and Heather Watson represent an extremely poor return on that investment.

They "caused disappointment", according to LTA's player director Steven Martens but he went on: "I would say, for me, it is not a reflection of British tennis. British tennis is much stronger than this."

It is difficult to agree with that claim. A lack of vital mental strength cost, in particular, Baltacha who lost to Petra Martic despite serving for the match at 5-4 in the second set, and Keothavong who contrived to let slip a 4-0 lead in the third set against Australia's Anastasia Rodionova.

Murray surveyed the casualty list and said: "It's not great, is it? A few of the girls had a chance to win and didn't quite take them."

While Baltacha and Keothavong admitted that nerves affected their performances on home turf, Murray says he doesn't mind that sort of pressure.

He said: "Surely, when you start playing a sport, you want to compete in the biggest events against the best players.

"When you get there, there's definitely a pressure that comes with it but it is something you should be able to enjoy as well.

"If there is extra pressure, I don't think it affects the way that I play. You've just got to get your head round it and deal with it."

Despite the manner of Baltacha's defeat to the teenage Croatian, Martens defended the world No52.

"This is the biggest stage in the world and having that on your home soil is something that probably unconsciously puts more expectations on everyone," he said. "When she [Baltacha] was that close, she wasn't able to cope with that particular pressure. But if you look just a few days ago, she made the quarterfinals of a Tour event and even won a set against French Open finalist, Samantha Stosur.

"Bally's progress on the mental side has been phenomenal and it's one of the main reasons why she is now very close to the top 50, something that hasn't happened in British women's tennis for a long time. One of the things she has been working on is visualisation, getting more breath control, but it doesn't mean you are perfect and can control it every time."

It would have been nice, though, if just one of our women had got it right. Keothavong said: "There's nothing more we'd love to do than play good tennis and win here. It just didn't happen.

It's unfortunate, but life goes on.

Nobody's died."

British hopes now rest on Murray, who returns to action against world No 67 Jarkko Nieminen tomorrow. The Centre Court match will be in front of The Queen, who will be making her first visit to Wimbledon since watching Virginia Wade became Britain's last Grand Slam champion in 1977.

Although Nieminen is a dangerous left hander the 28-year-old has lost his previous two meetings with Murray.

The fourth seed eased into the second round with a hugely impressive 7-5, 6-1, 6-2 win over Czech Jan Hajek while Nieminen had to work hard to subdue Austria's Stefan Koubek 6-4, 7-6, 5-7, 6-2 to earn his day on the greatest stage in world tennis.

The Finn, though, insists he will not be daunted by the occasion and although he tips Murray to become a Slam winner he does not think it will happen at this Wimbledon.

Nieminen said: "Obviously, he is still quite young and he will get more chances to win a Slam but, hopefully, not this year in this tournament. …

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