Tennis: Britain's drought ended by Baily

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JAMES BAILY, who marks his 18th birthday today, may have to grow up in a hurry. The expectations of British tennis landed in his court when he became the first British male for 28 years to win a junior Grand Slam singles championship here at the Australian Open, writes John Roberts.

Keeping a sense of proportion amid the hype is the chief priority for the young Hampshire player, and it is fortunate that his coach, Stephen Shaw, has sampled the type of problems to be enountered while guiding Jamie Delgado, the 15-year-old who won the Orange Bowl title in 1991.

Delgado, who still has three years of junior competition ahead of him, was eliminated in the semi-finals by Steve Downs, a 17- year-old New Zealander who was defeated by Baily in yesterday's final, 6-3, 6-2.

Baily's success represents a small but significant step forward for the British game, though not sufficient to send us overboard into the Yarra River with Jim Courier.

The last British male to win a junior Grand Slam was Gerald Battrick at the French championships in 1965, and Billy Knight, one of Baily's mentors, was the last to win the Australian title, in 1954.

Buster Mottram was defeated by Bjorn Borg in the 1972 junior final at Wimbledon, which was last won by a British male in 1962 (Stanley Matthews Jnr).

The temperature reached 33C during Baily's final. The sturdy six-footer had too many hefty shots for Downs, particularly on the forehand, finishing the match in 73 minutes. Both players were unseeded.

A year ago, unhappy with the coaching system at Bisham Abbey and upset after hearing on his return from Australia that his grandfather had died, Baily contemplated leaving the game. Working with Shaw and travelling with Delgado has changed his attitude.

Baily plans to play satellite tournaments as well as completing his last year at the other major juniors events.

Asked if he would be able to cope with the publicity that is likely to accompany his initial success, Baily said: 'I hope so. I don't think what anybody else says about you can change how you play on the court.'