Jelfs enjoying the view from the summit

Tennis
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The Independent Online
JOHN ROBERTS

reports from Glasgow

Britain's top-ranked women's player, who jogs the WTA Tour computer's memory at No 224 in the world, is about to remind the nation of her existence. The name is Lizzie Jelfs, and she will make her debut today against the United States in the Maureen Connolly Trophy.

Due to her improved form, and the continuing decline of the British women's game, the 19-year-old Jelfs returned to Banbury, Oxfordshire, after reaching the semi-finals of a pounds 75,000 Challenger event in Brazil during the first week in August and found herself ranked above everyone else in the country. Realising that this was not entirely her fault, Jelfs sensibly decided to make the best of it.

On the way to the Maureen Connolly Trophy 21-and-under team event at the Scotstoun Leisure Centre here, she lost to one compatriot, Julie Pullin, in the first round of a $25,000 (pounds 16,000) Challenger in China and defeated another, Lucie Ahl, in the final of a Reebok Tour event in Middlesex. The Reebok domestic circuit and the Challenger and Satellite international tournaments are the staple for aspiring talent.

Jelfs, the 1994 national junior champion, has arrived at an opportune moment. Between this morning and Saturday evening, Britain will attempt to record their first hat-trick in the Maureen Connolly Trophy, a trans- Atlantic competition inaugur- ated in 1973, 20 years after "Little Mo's" Grand Slam triumph and four years after her death. The Americans have won 17 of the 22 previous matches.

While any sign of British progress is welcome, a sense of proportion is advisable. The Maureen Connolly Trophy, presented by ADT Auctions, does not attract the most talented young American players, most of whom are too busy making their fame and fortune. The current team comprises three collegiate players, ranking from No 387 to No 730, and two from high school without a ranking. Among those eligible, but over-qualified, are the highly ranked 19-year-olds Lindsay Davenport and Chanda Rubin and the inactive 19-year-old Jennifer Capriati (Monica Seles is a month too old).

Britain have selected the top five eligible players: Jelfs, Karen Cross, of Exeter, Devon (245), Ahl, also of Exeter (322), Mandy Wainwright, of Chingford, Essex (343) and Kate Warne-Holland, of Stockport, Cheshire (384), who, like Jelfs, is making her first appearance.

Ann Jones, the captain, who presents as optimistic a view of the British game as possible in the circumstances, considers that the situation has "bottomed out and ought to start going up from here".

Always one to respect American teams, Jones expects a "good, strong, solid performance" from her players, and believes the current squad to be "fitter and mentally stronger" than those in the past. "Lizzie's where she is because she's one of the ones who has worked the hardest," she says. "But Lizzie's only just ahead of the pack, and that is creating competition."

Jelfs agrees. "I am only just ahead, and if somebody overtakes me, that will be even more incentive for me to keep going. We're all pushing each other. While I've been practising the last two or three weeks I've been asked what it's like being No 1, and it still seems a strange question, because I try not to think about it too much. I feel no different, really. I still have the same goal - I want to improve. OK, I'm No 1, but, to keep it in perspective, I'm No 224 in the world, which is nothing really. I still have a long way to go."

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