Tennis: Robinson punishes two British prospects

PAUL ROBINSON broke Greg Rusedski's mighty serve twice before losing in the men's singles semi-finals at the National Championships two years ago. Yesterday, Robinson advanced to the quarter-finals after deciding that playing in Shropshire was preferable to "sitting around doing nothing in Sweden when I had the week off from coaching".

As far as Robinson is concerned, his tennis career is over. He finished playing in December last year and moved to Malmo to join his Swedish girlfriend, Asa, a medical student. He has since sought a job in finance while making a few kroner coaching at a tennis club in Lund. He spent part of the summer playing league tennis in Germany and popped over to Cambridge during County Week, helping Northamptonshire gain promotion to Group Four.

Due to mark his 25th birthday on Sunday, men's final day, Robinson is guaranteed pounds 1,100 after battling through the pre-qualifying and reaching the last eight. He plays the No 2 seed, Miles Maclagan, from the West of Scotland, in the quarter-finals, having bruised two players who have featured as British prospects.

The 18-year-old David Sherwood, from Yorkshire, was Robinson's victim in the first round, and yesterday he beat Lincolnshire's Andrew Richardson, 3-6, 6-3, 6-1. Richardson, 24, was recently coaxed back into the game as Tim Henman's doubles partner after becoming so despondent that he took a three-month break and "looked for something else to do".

Robinson knows the feeling well. "The lifestyle didn't suit me," he said. "I need a solid base, not to be travelling week after week."

Armed with a BA degree in finance from a Texas University, he has spent 10 months looking for a job, but still says, "I'm happier doing what I'm doing than playing full-time tennis."

The win did not surprise Robinson. "I've had a good success rate against Andrew," he said. "I return well, which cancels out his serve a little bit."

Reflecting on his 1996 match against Rusedski, which he lost in three sets, Robinson said, "His serve has always been first class, very difficult to read. But I wasn't impressed with his game from the baseline. He's obviously improved a lot."

It is unlikely to console the vanquished Sherwood and Richardson that visiting coaches have a habit of making a mark at the Nationals. Chris Bradnam won the inaugural men's singles title in 1983, beating Buster Mottram in the final.

Lydia Perkins, a 20-year-old from Middlesbrough with a world ranking of No 591, caused the first tremor in the women's singles by eliminating Karen Cross, the fifth seed, 6-4, 1-6, 7-5. Cross, ranked No 166, had difficulty dealing with Perkins' substantial serve. Perkins now plays Julie Pullin, the No 2 seed, in the quarter-finals.

Jo Ward, whose hefty forehand took the title to South Shields in 1994, continues to show signs of reviving her career after numerous injury setbacks.

Ward, the third seed, is due to play Lucie Ahl, the No 7 seed from Devon, in the quarter-finals.

One of the more encouraging aspects of the week was the progress of a 15-year-old Hackney schoolgirl, Anne Keothavong, who advanced through the qualifying event and played Ward in the second round yesterday. Although defeated, 6-2, 6-2, Keothavong, whose parents were refugees from Laos, showed commendable poise and purpose, on the court and off it.

"Lots of people my age, and younger, don't realise all the hard work you have to go through if you want to be a tennis player," she said. "It's not as it easy as it seems."

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