Tennis: Pullin starts Britain off on the right foot: Britain's young women make promising start to their annual 21-and-under challenge against the United States

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The Independent Online
IT BECAME clear to the 21-and- under female players of Britain and the United States here that their contest for the Maureen Connolly Trophy would be a learning experience the moment the teams left their hotel, a converted school, and were taken to the tennis centre, which is situated in the grounds of the university. Britain thoroughly deserved the higher marks on the opening day, taking a 3-1 lead with seven matches still to play.

Julie Pullin, a 17-year-old left- hander from Sussex, gave Britain the lead with a 6-3, 6-2 win against Nicole Hummel. The Americans levelled the match, sponsored by ADT Auctions, when Pam Nelson defeated Devon's Lucie Ahl, 6-3,

6-3. At this point Mandy Wainwright, Britain's No 1, demonstrated the value of tenacity with a 7-6, 6-3 win against Julie Shiflet, the American No 2.

The 17-year-old from Essex survived two set points at 1-5 in the opening set, before securing the tie-break, 7-5. She then saved four break points, battling through seven deuces, to avoid slipping 0-3 down in the second set, and saved a further three break points in the concluding game.

Wainwright is ranked No 253 in the world, 99 places above her opponent, but she was giving away four years. In the end she made her power and determination count against the diminutive American.

Wainwright then partnered Shirli Ann-Siddall, from Dorset, in thrashing Hummel and Shiflet, 6-1, 6-0 in the doubles, at one stage winning 18 points in a row.

Pullin's encouraging start helped make amends for her two singles defeats when the teams met in Memphis a year ago, the Americans securing a 6-5 win to increase their lead in the series to 17-3. The confidence of her performance yesterday was particularly impressive considering she will have to undergo surgery to the big toe of her right foot before the year is out.

A bone spur is growing beneath the toenail, a problem which was aggravated when rain delays forced Pullin to play seven sets on the day before the final of last week's satellite event in Bracknell. According to Gordon Birt, her South African coach, by the time she reached the final 'her toe was twice the size and was looking like a red light bulb in a nasty district'.

Pullin moved smartly and aggressively yesterday to take control of the match between the No 3 players, though she was assisted by her opponent's eight double faults, two of which were delivered consecutively to end the opening set.

Hummel, a 19-year-old from California, reached the semi-finals of the junior singles at last year's United States Open, and her world ranking, No 340, has not been helped by an ankle injury which sidelined her during the summer.

Pullin, ranked No 398, has tended to handicap her progress by failing to capitalise on winning positions. She could not be accused of that yesterday.

Ahl, making her debut in the contest between the No 4 players, seemed to have recovered from a an ominous start when she broke Nelson in the opening game of the second set. The American broke back immediately and continued to find answers to the Briton's enthusiastic challenge. Further questions will be posed today.

(Photograph omitted)