Anne puts brave face on annus horribilis

Horror knee injury follows woeful loss of form but British No 1 vows to 'come back stronger next season'
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The Independent Online

When Anne Keothavong eventually looks back on her career it is a safe bet that the British No 1 will not want to dwell too long on the summer of 2009. After a run in the first part of the year that had taken her to three semi-finals on the main tour and into the world's top 50, the British No 1 went into the French Open in May with every reason to relish what lay ahead in the heart of the season. The last 10 weeks, however, have proved to be among the most disappointing of her professional life.

The 25-year-old from Hackney won only two of the 12 singles and doubles matches she played in that period and ended up flying home from California last week with her left knee all but shattered. In attempting to avoid running into a fence while playing at the Bank of the West Classic in Stanford, Keothavong collected virtually a full house of knee injuries: torn anterior cruciate ligaments, torn meniscus and bruised bones.

The world No 54 was back at the National Tennis Centre in Roehampton on Friday, where she saw a doctor and physiotherapist. On Tuesday she will be examined by Jonathan Webb, the former rugby union international who is a consultant orthopaedic surgeon specialising in knee surgery and sports medicine. He is likely to operate next week, once the swelling and inflammation go down.

At least surgeon and patient will know what to expect. Webb operated on Keothavong's right knee when she suffered a similar injury in exactly the same week in 2004, during another tournament in the United States. Just like this year, the injury put paid to mid-season promise, the Briton having enjoyed the biggest win of her career to date by beating Nicole Pratt, the world No 41, at Wimbledon.

Last time around Keothavong did not compete again for eight months. She has already written off the rest of this year and it will be a surprise if she returns in time for the Australian Open in January. She should be given a protected ranking, which would ensure she plays in events on the main tour, a right she had earned through her hard work in the last 18 months.

She is doing her best to put a brave face on the situation. "I'm obviously really upset and disappointed as I'll be out for the rest of the season, but these things happen in sport," she said. "Exactly five years ago I did the same thing to my right knee, so I know the rehab process. I have a good team around me and I'm sure I'll come back as a stronger player next season."

The injury capped a miserable spell for Keothavong, who earlier this year became the first British woman for 16 years to reach the world's top 50. She went into the French Open having just reached her first clay-court semi-final, in Warsaw, only to suffer a bruising 6-0 6-0 defeat in Paris at the hands of the world No 1, Dinara Safina.

She then won only one of her four singles matches during the grass-court season and ended up in tears at her post-match press conference after losing in the first round at Wimbledon. Stanford, where she lost at the first hurdle to Elena Dementieva, was her first tournament back.

Nigel Sears, the head coach of women's tennis at the Lawn Tennis Association, believes the defeat to Safina weighed heavily on Keothavong during her grass-court campaign. "She may not have shown how hard it hit her in terms of the way she conducted herself after the Safina match, but it was reflected in how tentative she was in every one of her grass-court matches," Sears said. "She got to where she's at by being more aggressive. She's worked so hard to get into great physical shape and be able to compete at tour level."

All the leading British women have made good progress in the last year, although this summer has been a testing time for a number of them. Katie O'Brien and Georgie Stoop, nevertheless, have been enjoying a productive week at an International Tennis Federation tournament in Vigo, Spain. The Britons were playing in separate semi-finals yesterday, both having reached the last four without dropping a set.

O'Brien and Stoop will hope to play in the qualifying tournament for the US Open, which begins in four weeks' time. Elena Baltacha and Mel South, who are in Los Angeles this weekend trying to qualify for the women's event beginning there tomorrow, have the same goal.