Tennis: Dutch courage earns respect

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The Independent Online
SEARCHING the heavens for a new star on the women's circuit is not usually a very profitable pastime but, even through the clouds, the wind and the occasional rain, one twinkled brightly this past week at Eastbourne and it came from just across the Channel.

Miriam Oremans, of the Netherlands, ranked 42 in the world, beat Helena Sukova and the defending champion Lori McNeil before giving Martina Navratilova a fright in an excellent final yesterday which saw the 36-year-old Czech-born American prevail in the end 2-6, 6-2, 6-3.

Given the circumstances that accompanied Navratilova's dramatic last-minute entry into the Volkswagen Cup, it was difficult to upstage one of the greatest players in the history of tennis but the Dutch 20-year-old gave it an excellent try.

Facing by far the biggest singles occasion of her career - she appeared with Jacco Eltingh in the Wimbledon Mixed Doubles final last year - Oremans stunned Navratilova in the opening game of the match by breaking her serve to love. There was no fluke about it either. A clean service return winner and three passes left Martina peering through her spectacles at this opponent she had never played before; a stocky figure under a white cap who was obviously not going to be over- awed by a packed centre court at Devonshire Park.

That opening onslaught was more than enough to secure the first set. Succumbing to the consistent brilliance of the Dutch backhand, Navratilova dropped serve again in the seventh game and such was the depth and power of Oremans' serves that the former Wimbledon champion never came close to the break-back.

But one set does not win a title, especially for a player of such relative inexperience. The Dutch player had looked 25 places better than her 42nd ranking but sustaining such a lofty level was going to be difficult. And so it proved. Navratilova finally reached break point for the first time at 3-2 in the second set and promptly seized it with a sweeping forehand service return pass.

The match changed right there. Oremans continued to play well but errors crept into a formerly secure volley and as her serve shortened Navratilova pounced to begin scoring more consistently with return winners.

In the end the Dutch player was well beaten but after a week like this she will be heard from again, possibly at Wimbledon.

It is no coincidence that Dutch players succeed because they work hard. Stan Franker, the coach from Surinam who has been in charge of tennis in the Netherlands for the past several years, is a tough taskmaster but the results are there for all to see. Richard Krajicek leads a pack of male players that have given the Dutch five members of the top 100 and in the women's game the tall Brenda Shultz has recently been making her mark. And now Oremans is following in their footsteps. But it did not apparently come easily. She credited her recent improvement to a fierce training routine at the end of last year which rid her of eight kilos.

Martina knows all about hard work and, with Billie Jean King and Craig Kardon to help her, she is still not ready to shirk it. The way she battled through two matches on Thursday and fought so hard to turn yesterday's final to her own advantage was proof of an undiminished ambition. Her record at Devonshire Park gets more extraordinary with the passing years. She has now won 11 titles in 19 appearances and, after this, another Wimbledon crown cannot be counted out.

(Photograph omitted)