Tennis: Latimer makes strides before Seles arrives

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The Independent Online
LOUISE LATIMER, the 21-year-old British No 3, won a second surprise qualifying victory here yesterday to progress into the main draw for the Direct Line Championships, which start this morning. Latimer, who is ranked No 153 in the world and defeated the world No 45, Fabiola Zuluaga of Colombia, on Sunday, beat Janet Lee of Taiwan, ranked 107, in straight sets, 6-3, 6-2, to join Sam Smith, the British No 1, and Karen Cross, the British No 4, in the first round of the pre-Wimbledon taster.

Latimer now meets a fellow qualifier, the Ukrainian Elena Tatarkova (ranked 62 in the world) in the first round, while Cross faces Sylvia Plischke of Austria, and Smith plays Anne Kremer of Luxembourg. All their matches are scheduled for today.

The top-seeded players will not make an appearance until tomorrow, when all eyes are likely to be on Monica Seles, the world No 4 and seeded No 1 here. Eastbourne is the only grass court title Seles has ever won (in 1996), and the 25-year-old American will be hoping that a successful run this week will enhance her chances at Wimbledon, the only Grand Slam title to have evaded her so far. Seles, who has a bye into the second round, is drawn to meet the winner the of the Kremer-Smith match.

In the other half of the draw, Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario will be looking for a place in a third consecutive Direct Line final. The Spaniard will also be hoping for some improvement in fortunes, having lost last year to Jana Novotna, and having had to share the title (with Novotna) the year before, after the match was abandoned due to rain. Novotna will not be defending her title this week, due an injury to her ankle ligaments, but will play in the doubles and is still planning to defend the Wimbledon title she won last year.

The other main contenders this week will be Nathalie Tauziat of France (seeded No 3), who comes here on the back of a weekend defeat in the final of the DFS Classic at Edgbaston; South Africa's Amanda Coetzer (seeded No 4); and the Russian teenager, Anna Kournikova (No 5). Tauziat, who lost in last year's Wimbledon final to Novotna, has a first-round bye and will meet the winner of the match between Cross and Plischke. Coetzer, who also has a bye, will meet the winner from the Latimer-Tatarkova match, while Kournikova meets the American Chanda Rubin today.