Tennis: Wood displays her mettle

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CLARE WOOD was mulling over what the odds would be on her collecting the DFS Classic title. 'I think it would be 100-1 on any British player getting through the first-round match,' she said. 'What price do you think I'll be?'

Given the unpromising state of home women's tennis, the question was received in much the same manner as someone asking 'what exactly is wrong with me?' Feet shuffled, eyes looked downward, breaths had the blunt intake of a razor blade.

But when the information came back that she was being offered at 50-1 the British No 1 was sufficiently tempted to put pounds 10 on herself. 'It's a grass court, the bounce is unpredictable and anything could happen,' she said optimistically. 'Any one of half a dozen players could win it.'

There were moments yesterday when 500-1 would have seemed stingy. Wood admits to finding the opening rounds of tournaments difficult to handle and she had to endure several scares and 2hr 15min on court yesterday before she finished off Japan's Ai Sugiyama 6-4, 3-6, 6-4.

As 16th seed she was expected to succeed, but after Monday when Britain had secured a less than glorious hat-trick of defeats any foreigh player with the knack of holding the racket the right way round appeared a danger. The more so when Sugiyama, whose rank of 114th put her within rage of her opponent's 86, unveiled a backhand that hissed off the grass with the venom of a snake.

'My backhand is the stronger side, too,' Wood said, 'but she was outplaying me on that side. It became a struggle on the forehand with both of us trying to keep the ball going.'

At 6-4 and 3-1 Wood appeared to have mastered that struggle but her serve began to show signs of disintegration and Sugiyama won five games in succession to take the second set and had two break points for 4-2 in the third. She missed that opportunity, however, and with it her last chance of taking the match.

Wood will now meet Shirli-Ann Siddall, who defeated Claire Wegink 6-2, 6-2. Siddall has fought her way back from a series of injuries that have kept her away from regular competition on the circuit and prompted her slide down the rankings to 446 in the world. Her success yesterday ensures that the home nation will have an interest in the third round.

Britain could double that if Julie Pullin can follow through on her first win on the WTA Tour. Pullin, who is 18 and from Hove, had an unhappy start when she trailed 3-0 to Italy's Rita Grande but secured a 6-3, 6-3 victory. Her day was then made complete when she was handed a wild card for Wimbledon.

The four other women to have been similarly rewarded with entry to the main draw are Karen Cross, Jo Durie, Monique Javer and Mandy Wainwright. The fortunate men on the list are Tim Henman, Andrew Foster, Chris Wilkinson and Chris Bailey.