Tennis: Bates ends 17-year wait: British No 1's landmark for his country guarantees Wimbledon entry

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JEREMY BATES has ended 17 years of famine for the British game by winning the Korean Open in Seoul, the first men's singles success on the mainstream tour since Mark Cox's victory in Helsinki in 1977.

The 31-year-old Bates, competing in his first final, defeated Joern Renzenbrink, a German 10 years his junior who went into the match ranked 18 places above him at No 113. The win, 6-4, 6-7, 6-3, will lift Bates to around the 100 mark today, guaranteeing him direct entry for Wimbledon in June as a bonus to his cheque for dollars 27,000 (pounds 18,000).

'It's a bit ironic,' Bates said, 'a few months ago I was wondering if I'd ever win a tour title. I'm christening my baby next week (Joshua, born on 27 January). I'm going to dedicate this win to him.'

The Korean Open is a World Series tournament, a third tier championship on the ATP Tour, one level above challenger events such as the one Bates has entered in Taipei this week.

Among the opponents Bates defeated on his way to the final was the American Chuck Adams, the defending champion and No 2 seed, and Jan Siemerink, of the Netherlands, ranked No 91.

Taking the final step for the first time in 15 years on the tour proved a difficult experience. 'I was really nervous, and I never really settled down out there,' Bates said. 'I don't think the tennis was fantastic, but I'm very pleased to have won. I thought I'd won it in the second set, when I was up 5-4 serving in the tie-break, but Joern hit some great shots.'

When the German took the tie-break, 8-6, Bates said he began to think that he was 'destined not to win'. But his confidence returned and he made the crucial break for 5-3 in the final set, serving the match out to love. 'If you can turn that kind of a match around it says a lot about your character, and I think that pleased me more than anything,' he said.

Though Bates's career has produced some encouraging performances - advancing to the last 16 at Wimbledon in 1992 being the most obvious - he has done himself and the British game a service by finally translating his talent into a title.

By doing so, he has dislodged, if not removed, a psychological barrier which has grown ever since Cox's victory in the Scandinavian Covered Courts Championship. 'Referring back to it has been an unfair reflection on today's players,' said Cox, director of the Rover/LTA Junior Tennis Initiative, 'and now it is like a monkey off the back. It think it's a terrific boost for British tennis.'

Bates's success comes only days after Bill Knight's decision to return to the Lawn Tennis Association and accept the Davis Cup captaincy along with his previous role as manager of men's training.

'A result like this must be terrifically encouraging for the youngsters,' Knight said. 'It shows if you stay in the game, and keep on competing, good things can happen. The really good thing is that this will get Jeremy into Wimbledon, Queen's and Manchester, and leave space for other British players to receive wild-cards.'