my own goal: Clare Wood

Britain's No 1 woman tennis player, 27, is a member of the team taking part in the Federation Cup in La Manga this week. Eight injury- free years on the Tour ended in 1994 when she made the mistake of accepting a challenge from an unlikely quarter ...
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IT WAS the second week of Wimbledon last year. I'd been knocked out in the first round, and so I was taking some time off before my next lot of tournaments in the United States.

It was a complete break. I was at home in Brighton, and at the weekend some old friends, nothing to do with tennis, invited me out to a country club in Sussex for the afternoon. It was just a fun day out for families really, with a barbecue and lots of activities, including tennis, although I certainly wasn't there to play.

We were just sitting around when the chap in charge of the tennis section came over to me. He'd recognised me and told me that the club chef was a good player and would love it if I gave him a game. I didn't like to sound unfriendly, but it was my time off and I really didn't want to get involved with anything like that, so I said no.

I thought that was that, but after a little while the chap came back again and tried to persuade me a second time. "Go on, just for a bit of fun." By now word had got round that I was there, and it was getting harder to say no - I felt under pressure to please everyone. So eventually I said OK, but just one set. I was wearing shorts anyway, and someone lent me a racket.

Part of the problem was that the chef was someone I remembered from years before, because he had indeed been a good player, and had even represented his county, both as a junior and a senior. He was three or four years older than me, and I remembered that he hadn't really carried on with the sport. But even so, if you were that good once, you're never going to lose it entirely. I was actually going to have to work a bit to win.

So there we were with a few people watching, and I was trying to get the set over with as quickly as possible. I went into a 3-0 lead, but I could see he was gradually beginning to hit the ball better and he won the next game to make it 3-1. I won the next two and it was when I was leading 5-1 that I had to run for a wide ball and as I stretched for it I suddenly felt, and heard, this horrible tear in my right leg. It was painful, but I didn't like to stop because that would have looked mean. I didn't let on I was injured at all.

I won the game and with it the set and went back to join my friends. I said to one of them, "I don't know what I've done but there's definitely something wrong." When I got home I put ice on it and hoped it would get better overnight, but by the following morning I knew it was pretty serious.

So I went to see my physio and was told I'd ruptured my hamstring. I couldn't believe it. It was just a freak accident, and the ridiculous thing was that in all my time as a professional, all the time I'd really been pushing myself on a tennis court, I'd never had an injury.

Everyone was amazed at the severity of it. My coach went absolutely mad with me. I got no sympathy; people just said well you're stupid, you shouldn't have played that chap in the first place. But they didn't understand the circumstances and the pressure I felt under.

The upshot was that I had to cancel my whole US trip, including the US Open. I got knee problems as a result of the injury and my world ranking dropped from 77 to 180. I didn't play again until October. Even now I've got a little way to go but with a bit of luck I'll be 100 per cent by the time Wimbledon comes round. I've really learnt my lesson.

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