Tennis: Collin takes another step towards Tour

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HANNAH COLLIN looks at Teletext every day to see how the international junior players with whom she is acquainted are progressing on the WTA Tour. "I know I'm not far away," the 17-year-old from Surrey said.

Yesterday Collin achieved a minor triumph on a domestic scale, defeating Karen Cross, the No 4 seed from Devon, 6-3, 6-1, to advance to the semi- finals of the National Championships. Collin's opponent today is her friend Heidi Farr, who is her junior by two weeks. Farr defeated another Surrey player, Lorna Woodroffe, 6-3, 5-7, 7-5.

Collin's victory would have been more impressive had not Cross contributed eight double-faults, the majority on crucial points. "Hannah's very solid," Cross said. "She didn't give a lot away, but she didn't have to push me much."

Cross, aged 25 and ranked No 189 in the world, has had her moments. In 1997 she became the first British woman qualifier to reach the third round at Wimbledon for 21 years, and held a match point against Iva Majoli, the French Open champion. This year Cross reached the second round at Wimbledon, at which stage she had to cope with the burgeoning talent of the promising Belgian teenager Kim Clijsters, who allowed her only two games.

A finalist at the Nationals in 1993, having defeated Jo Durie in the semi-finals, Cross has failed to make an impact since. "The last few years I've tended to have a mental block at the Nationals for reasons I haven't quite worked out yet," she said.

Cross was not helped yesterday by a taut muscle in her right thigh, symptomatic of the nature of the tournament. "There's a lot of tension this week," she said. "There always is at the Nationals. A lot of pride is at stake, I guess."

Collin sensed her opponent's unease. "I think it's been obvious this week that quite a few juniors are coming through. The older players respect us, and I don't think they want to play us." Perhaps. But, as Patrice Hagelauer reminded us again yesterday, until the number of young people playing tennis increases dramatically, Britain will continue to struggle to be a major force.

"I have a feeling many parents in this country are afraid to see kids going into a sports job," Hagelauer, the Lawn Tennis Association's performance director, said. "It's very important to organise programmes where they have good tennis academy places and good education until after their GCSE examinations. You know by the age of 16 which youngsters are capable of succeeding at tennis. When that time comes, parents can make a choice."

Hagelauer is in the process of persuading schools, chiefly private, independent and boarding schools, to support his development programme. "We are talking with schools in the proximity of the regional tennis centres that have the flexibility and availability to ensure that the young players we select for training are able to spend enough time practising and playing tournaments as well as doing their studies."