Tennis: Britain thrive on the right approach

Click to follow
The Independent Online
THERE was further evidence of the greater resolve displayed by several British players during Wimbledon when the nation's 21- and-under women's team completed a 9-2 Maureen Connolly Trophy victory against the United States in Stirling on Saturday.

It was Britain's fourth, and most emphatic, win in the 21 matches since the annual event began in 1973, and the first since 1988. Two 17-year-olds, Mandy Wainwright and Julie Pullin, and three players aged 19, Shirli-Ann Siddall, Lucie Ahl and Karen Cross, combined to outscore the Americans with an impressive variety of shots and a burgeoning confidence.

While it is prudent to maintain a sense of proportion, particularly as the American team did not include tour-hardened youngsters of the calibre of Jennifer Capriati, Lindsay Davenport, Lisa Raymond and Chanda Rubin, the manner of the success was encouraging.

Britain does not have a player of either sex in the top 100 of the world rankings, and growth will be stunted until this is rectified by progress through the regular tour. Team events such as the Connolly Trophy, sponsored by ADT Auctions, offer useful international experience. As Ann Jones, the British captain, said: 'Every little bit helps, but we've been in this position before and it hasn't gone as far as it might.'

The 1969 Wimbledon champion, director of women's international tennis for the Lawn Tennis Association, does, however, detect a psychological change for the better in the British approach. 'I know it doesn't set the world alight, but we won the European Team Cup last year. James Baily won the juniors at the Australian Open. The men did well at Wimbledon. It gives players the belief that if they get the opportunity they can win, whereas before, when everybody always lost, I think they thought that's what they were supposed to do.'

Wainwright's infectious personality was almost as important in sustaining team morale as was the tenacity of the Essex girl's performance as the British No 1. She is studying for A Levels next summer, but her ambition is to graduate on the tennis circuit. 'They were led very well by Mandy,' Jones said. 'She was the youngest at No 5 last year, but she still led the team then. She's jolly and gets them all singing. It all adds to the team spirit.'

Jo Durie has been one of the few players during the past decade to have indicated that the spirit of Jones, Virginia Wade and Sue Barker is alive in the British game. The 33-year-old Durie's tournament plans do not extend beyond another season.

'Jo's said there isn't anybody coming behind, but I think there are signs of some now,' Jones said. 'I'm not saying they're there yet. They must be allowed to try to build without us making promises and without them making promises.'