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Page last updated at 12:27 GMT, Wednesday, 18 June 2008 13:27 UK

GB women battle for top spot

Clockwise from top left: O'Brien, Cavaday, Keothavong, South and Baltacha
Clockwise from top left: O'Brien, Keothavong, Baltacha, South and Cavaday

By Alistair Magowan


After a decade without any tennis players in the world's top 100, Britain's women are suddenly bearing down on the mark with real momentum.

In May, British number one Anne Keothavong broke into double figures and she is being closely followed by four women who are desperate to join her.

Keothavong, Katie O'Brien, Mel South, Elena Baltacha and Naomi Cavaday head into Wimbledon all ranked inside the world's top 200, but who are they and will their success last?

BBC Sport spoke to some of the players and Fed Cup coach Nigel Sears to assess the battle for Britain's number one spot.

ANNE KEOTHAVONG
Anne Keothavong

Age: 24
Ranking: 93 (career high 92 on 9 June)
Best Wimbledon performance: Second round (2004)
Recent activity: Has led the way by becoming the first British woman since Sam Smith in 1998 to register in the world's top 100 players, ensuring she qualified for Wimbledon on merit.

The breakthrough came on the back of winning a tournament in Lebanon but the foundations were laid last year when she reached the semi-final of a tier-two Tour event in Kolkata. The Londoner has benefited from a change in coach after spending much of her younger years "working with people who were negative".

She says: "I'm obviously older now so I choose what I want to listen to. What I like to have are people who are positive around me and who can help push me. The people I work with also know how hard I work, and as long as I and they know that, then I don't need people questioning me who really have no right to."

Nigel Sears says: "I always felt she was capable of making the top 75 in the world. I know she's only just made the top 100 but previously she had been nowhere near. Her age means I would expect her to play some of her best tennis now."

KATIE O'BRIEN
Katie O'Brien

Age: 22
Ranking: 106 (career high 104 on 9 June)
Best Wimbledon performance: Second round (2007)
Recent activity: This time last year O'Brien was the British number one after an encouraging grass-court season and she has been hovering around the 120 mark for most of 2008.

The Yorkshire-born player would have made the main draw for Wimbledon based on her current ranking, but she has a wildcard and is looking to grab the opportunity "with both hands". She calls herself "feisty" and is currently studying an Open University degree in business studies.

She says: "For as long as I've been around, British tennis is in the best state it's ever been in. We're all pushing each other on and it's inspiring the younger British players as well so there will be a generation to back it up and do better than us."

Nigel Sears says: "She's been working well with her coach Jens Gerlach and is a good example of gelling the right players with the right coaches. For far too long that hasn't been the case. She's radically improved as can be seen by her highest ranking."

MEL SOUTH
Mel South

Age: 22
Ranking: 139 (career high)
Best Wimbledon performance: Second round (2006)
Recent achievements: The Surrey-born right-hander was the first Briton in 16 years to make the quarter-finals at the DFS Classic in Birmingham this month.

Like Keothavong, she is coached by Simon Walsh and grew up modelling her attacking style on Monica Seles. Her preferred surface is grass and a good showing at Wimbledon could take her within touching distance of the top 100.

She says: "You can never put a limit on anything but this year I want to go top 100 and I definitely want to go higher.

"Grass is my favourite surface so I love this period of the year also because I live 10 minutes from Wimbledon so I get to stay at home a lot. It's great after staying in hotels most of the year, mum does all the washing and everything."

Nigel Sears says: "Whereas Anne and Katie rely more on their movement, Mel is a counter-puncher and likes to get the first strike in. The run in Birmingham has given her lots of confidence and she will approach Wimbledon in good shape."

ELENA BALTACHA
Elena Baltacha

Age: 24
Ranking: 144 (career high 118 in 2005)
Best Wimbledon performance: Third round (2002)
Recent achievements: Best Grand Slam record of the five having reached the third round of Australian Open (2005) and Wimbledon.

Although she is the same age as Keothavong, the former British number one has had more peaks and troughs than the other four put together. The Ukraine-born Scot's achievements have been beset by a catalogue of injuries including a liver complaint, which enforced a six-month break from tennis in 2003, and a prolapsed disc in her back meaning she had to miss most of the 2007 season.

Nigel Sears says: "It's been very difficult for her in the past few years but she made a big decision to leave her coach (Alan Jones) and spend time at the National Tennis Centre.

"She recently won back-to-back tournaments. One was a $75,000 event where previously she'd never been past the second round, so there has been a resurgence in her career and like Anne she should be beginning to play her best tennis in her career."

NAOMI CAVADAY
Naomi Cavaday

Age: 19
Ranking: 199 (career high 183 in March 2008)
Best Wimbledon performance: First round (2007 and 2006)
Recent achievements: Has struggled to progress from the high 100s in the world rankings but the left-hander showed her mettle at last-year's Wimbledon when she had two match points against Martina Hingis.

Nigel Sears says: "She has had some personal problems of late and is based down in Bromley with her coach Rob Smith. As the youngest of the group it's a personal choice, but the other girls make her feel welcome when she practises at the National Tennis Centre. She had a good win in Birmingham and, like Mel, is a good striker of the ball. She likes to play at the back of the court."


see also
Britons net Wimbledon wildcards
10 Jun 08 |  Tennis
British women finally on the up
28 Jan 08 |  Tennis


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