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Page last updated at 06:58 GMT, Wednesday, 30 June 2010 07:58 UK

British juniors shine at Wimbledon

Wimbledon Championships
Venue: All England Club, London Date: 21 June - 4 July
Coverage:
Live on BBC One and Two, HD, Red Button, BBC Sport website (UK only), Radio 5 live, 5 live sports extra; live text commentary online and on mobile phones. Full details of BBC coverage

Oliver Golding
Oliver Golding used to be coached by his mother on a court in his back garden

By David Ornstein
BBC Sport at Wimbledon

It was impossible to ignore the sense of disappointment around Wimbledon last week as British tennis digested its worst ever performance at the All England Club.

By the end of play on day two, six of the nation's seven representatives had fallen by the wayside, leaving Andy Murray as the only home player - male or female - to reach round two.

But a week on from that largely forgettable Tuesday afternoon, there was at last some cause for optimism.

Away from the thrills and spills of the women's quarter-finals, no fewer than nine British teenagers could be found battling away in the junior competition - each of them making an impression and five advancing to round three.

The winners were Oliver Golding, James Marsalek, Laura Robson, Tara Moore and Eleanor Dean, while Liam Broady, Lewis Burton, Ashley Hewitt and Fran Stephenson all produced encouraging displays against top-10 ranked opponents.

"I loved playing on a show court today," Golding, the top-ranked British boy, told BBC Sport after beating 14th seed Juan Sebastian Gomez on a packed Court Five.

I practised with Nicolas Almagro and by the end he was actually snapping - we played a set and he was smashing his racquet all over the place

Oliver Golding

"I'm pretty good in front of big crowds and felt I performed really well. There's obviously a bit of pressure on British players during Wimbledon but you've just got to stay relaxed and get on with your job."

For the first time in its 133-year history the Wimbledon main draw featured no Englishman this year, but Golding heads a talented group of juniors who have the potential to help lift the gloom.

The 17-year-old former child actor has a venomous serve, powerful groundstrokes and bundles of confidence. He marked his victory in round one of the junior French Open with a chest-pumping celebration and there were similar scenes post-Gomez.

"My ultimate aim has got to be top 10 in the world," added the 6ft 1ins right-hander. "In Eastbourne I hit with a couple of guys who were top 50 and I didn't feel like I was that far away from them.

"Here I practised with Nicolas Almagro and by the end he was actually snapping - we played a set and he was smashing his racquet all over the place. It was an invaluable experience and showed I can hold my own with decent players."

Golding is one of six British boys inside the junior top 100. Among the others is Marsalek, a highly-rated 18-year-old who lifted the recent Aegon Junior International in Roehampton and has a beautifully balanced game.

Eleanor Dean
I really think I can make it to the top and we've got a lot of girls in the same position. We're actually building a genuinely good group of British players

Eleanor Dean

And while Hewitt, Burton and Broady all fell to defeats at Wimbledon that did not reflect the quality of their play, Burton wowed the Court 14 crowd with serve-volley tactics and Broady illustrated the all-round promise that ought to take him far.

Despite lacking consistency at present, 16-year-old Broady - a recent practice partner for Rafael Nadal - possesses an impressive physique, has a calm on-court demeanour, is light on his feet and benefits from a potent forehand.

"It [the lack of high-ranking British men] makes you want to help turn it around and there's a real chance for us to step up," said Broady, who no longer receives LTA funding after his father Simon fell out with the governing body.

"We've got quite a few good players in the juniors and if we can make the transition to seniors then before long we could have a fair few players in the Wimbledon main draw."

Although the British women also endured a miserable Wimbledon, they have made significant progress over the past couple of years, so the emergence of several young prospects behind the likes of Elena Baltacha, Katie O'Brien and Anne Keothavong is extremely good news.

British number one Heather Watson, 18, and Robson, 16, are already junior Grand Slam champions, while 17-year-old Moore feels she deserves to be talked about in a similar breath.

"Heather and Laura are amazing tennis players and if people rate me up with them that's amazing but if they don't I've just got to show them I am one of them," insisted the aggressive Hong Kong-born right-hander.

"Maybe I'm a little bit behind but I'm confident I can catch up. I practice a lot with Heather and Laura, we go to team events together and I rate myself up there with them."

However, the name on the lips of many experts is that of Dean. At the age of just 14, she has made a brilliant start to her first junior Grand Slam, stunning 18-year-old world number seven Gabriela Dabrowski in the first round before fighting her way past 17-year-old Ksenia Kirillova the second round.

606: DEBATE
feisty

An LTA official watching the match from courtside told BBC Sport that Dean is "better than Robson was at the same age".

Like Robson, Dean has struggled with the physical affects of a growth spurt but is now fully fit. She has a 100mph plus first serve, solid groundstrokes and an on-court maturity that belies her years.

"I've been watching Wimbledon on TV all my life and now I'm here walking past the players thinking, 'Oh my god, I've seen you on TV'," enthused Dean, who trains at the National Tennis Centre in Roehampton. "I can't describe how much I'm enjoying this.

"I was 4-0 down in the deciding set against Kirillova - I think I lost a bit of focus and concentration - but I used the crowd's energy to help me. I've never been in front of a crowd that big before and I managed to use it positively.

"I really think I can make it to the top and we've got a lot of girls in the same position. The other day I was watching some of the younger age groups at the NTC - younger than me - and now we're actually building a genuinely good group of British players."

Junior potential by no means guarantees senior success, of course - in the mid-1990s Martin Lee rose to junior world number one but never made it higher than 94th in the senior standings.

The transition has to be handled with extreme care and historically that is where the country has slipped up.

But if the process is managed correctly with the likes of Golding, Marsalek, Moore and Dean, then maybe - just maybe - British tennis could be set for a bright future.



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see also
Wimbledon day eight as it happened
29 Jun 10 |  Tennis
Wimbledon 2010 - day eight photos
29 Jun 10 |  Tennis
Murray through to quarter-finals
28 Jun 10 |  Tennis
LTA chief optimistic about future
27 Jun 10 |  Tennis
Three more Britons in early exits
22 Jun 10 |  Tennis
British women suffer early exits
21 Jun 10 |  Tennis
Jankovic defeats battling Robson
21 Jun 10 |  Tennis
No Englishman in Wimbledon draw
17 Jun 10 |  Tennis
Murray warns British youngsters
25 Sep 07 |  Tennis
LTA suspends top junior players
24 Sep 07 |  Tennis


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