Tennis: Delgado and Collin take the subtle approach

Click to follow
The Independent Online
A GLANCE at the new National singles champions, Jamie Delgado and Hannah Collin, confirms that the power game passed them by. Delgado, 22, is 5ft 9in, the same height as Michael Chang. Collin, 17, is 5ft 5in and looks far too fragile to risk putting within hitting range of the Williams sisters.

To compensate for their lack of imposing physical presence, Delgado and Collin are blessed with subtle means to undermine opponents, such as accurate and varied ground strokes and mental agility. Both players, having capitalised on those qualities to succeed at junior level, were able to put their skills to good purpose over five matches at the Telford International Centre.

Collin, the No 8 seed, went through the women's field without conceding a set, although the counter-puncher from Thames Ditton, Surrey, only had to play for 19 minutes and complete five games in yesterday's final before her opponent, Jo Ward, the 1994 champion, retired at 2-3, 15-30 because of a back injury.

The most positive aspect of the sparsely-attended tournament was Collin's graduation as the youngest National Champion since Sarah Loosemore, of Wales, who was three months younger when she won at Queen's Club, London, in 1988.

Delgado, seeded No 1 in the absence of Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski, who have outgrown the domestic event, dominated three matches en route to the semi-finals. He then recovered after losing the opening set against Hampshire's Nick Weal, and succeeded in overcoming the potent attacking game of Barry Cowan, the Lancashire left-hander, 7-6, 6-4.

Cowan did well to make it to the final considering the sorry state his body was in after Friday's quarter-final against Cheshire's Mark Hilton, let alone have the staying power to defeat Tom Spinks in straight sets in the semi-finals and to push Delgado almost point-for-point for the hour and 24 minutes of the final.

There was only one break of serve yesterday. Cowan, having saved the only break point of the first set with a splendid backhand volley down the line, double-faulted on the third point of the tie-break, which Delgado went on to dominate, 7-2.

Delgado broke for 2-1 in the second set after Cowan failed to put away a backhand volley, allowing his opponent to play a lob, forcing a more difficult high backhand, which Cowan hit wide. Delgado finished the job in style, serving out to love on his first match point.

Born in Birmingham, but brought up in Tenerife, Delgado is the first Real Madrid supporter to become Briton's National tennis champion.

Delgado readily admits that his slow progress as a senior - he is ranked No 191 in the world - was due to a lack of application rather than inches.

"I was a top junior, and subconsciously I thought I'd automatically turn up one day in the top 100," he said. "I drifted for a couple of years until I realised what was needed. I've been working harder. I came to Telford as the No 3 ranked British player, and for me this week gave me a good chance to underline that."

Collin, who is old enough to play a greater number of WTA Tour events next year, is working with Tim Henman's former fitness coach, Tim Newenham, to strengthen her chances of success. "I'm aware that there are a lot of big, strong girls out there," Collin said.

"I'm working on my strength, particularly the upper body, and trying to make my serve a bigger shot. When I'm not playing tournaments, I spend a lot of time working on physical fitness. Tim has set my programme, which includes a variety of exercises, including rowing and working with medicine balls."

Collin takes heart from the way Henman developed from being a slight, shortish figure. "Henman uses what he's got well, and I'm going to try and follow in his footsteps," she said. "I'm not a big hitter. I'm more of a consistent type of player who relies on a variety of shots."

There are two ways of looking at most situations. In the case of Delgado and Collin, the old saying that a good big 'un will always beat a good little 'un may be balanced by the thought that good things come in small packages.