Tennis: Wood claims not-so-grand national title: Julie Welch at Telford sees an encouraging display of British tennis

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The Independent Online
THE State of British Tennis Week, otherwise known as the National Championships at Telford, continued yesterday with a women's final in which Clare Wood duly confirmed her status as the best female Brit in the world.

Is that saying much? Well, Wood, with a new coach, Nick Sears, and a new fitness regime, has shot up the international rankings to her highest place, 84th, and looks strong and tenacious enough to go higher if she can crack the problem of her serve.

This is one of the few tennis events where a British winner is guaranteed, the competition being closed to foreign marauders. Wood's opponent was Karen Cross, a pony-tailed 19- year-old from Exeter who has recently risen 600 places in the rankings, to 336th, and opened a few eyes on Friday when she knocked out Jo Durie in three sets.

Yesterday she was expected to be blown away by the bigger and more senior Wood. As it turned out, the first set was 50 minutes long and characterised by some inspired baseline blasting from both players, Cross moving around the court like a wasp Wood could not swat. To thrill to the rallies, though, you had to watch a lot of bad serving. From 1-1 onwards, every game went against service until Wood finally broke the habit by holding hers to lead 6-5. She took the set 7-5 and got the serving mechanics right at last to dispatch Cross 6-0 in the second set in only slightly more time than it takes to hard-boil an egg.

'Would anyone like a clinic on serving?' Wood enquired chirpily afterwards, adding that she and her coach have been working on a new second serve with a different grip. 'Because I've been serving so many double faults I've got used to it, so it doesn't put me off. And I know it works, so I'm going to stick with it.'

Cross, who had looked so cool on court, confessed that her hand had still been shaking during the change of ends at 4-3 in the first set. 'Luckily for me, it doesn't always show when I'm nervous. I coped with her speed of shot quite well, but once she got the first set she seemed to relax and after that, that was it.'

The first of the men's semi- finals featured the fourth seed, Chris Bailey (6ft 5in and famous for his match point against Goran Ivanisevic at Wimbledon last summer), and seventh seeded Miles Maclagan, the 19-year- old who bears the burden of being a young hope of British tennis. Maclagan, who on Friday had slogged his way through a protracted quarter-final against Danny Sapsford before being required to play doubles, seemed to lose heart after some bad luck in the early games and the 25-year-old Bailey eased through to today's final 6-1, 6-4.

Four years ago, when his international ranking stood at 126, Bailey's knee was so badly wrecked that he spent the next two years recovering. With a new coach, Nick Carr, he has relaunched himself on the circuit and is ten spots away from his current goal of 150.

'Once I break 150 I'll sit down with Nick and work out where we go from there,' Bailey said. 'I've still got a lot to learn from him, but now he's happy with the way I'm playing and it's more about teaching me how to act on certain points. I think I'm getting close now.'

And the state of British tennis? 'It's looking good. We've got three or four good teenagers and I wouldn't write Jeremy Bates off right now because for the first time in years he's got four guys chasing him and he's back in the top 100.'

Bates, who was in commanding form in the other semi-final, beating the unseeded Colin Beecher 6-2, 6-3, will be Bailey's opponent in the final.