Keothavong out to show age is no barrier
'Veteran' to fight her corner as GB's young guns look to make mark in main draw
The first week at Wimbledon is usually a time for soul-searching about the future of British tennis, but, whisper it quietly, the All England Club's grass courts are not the only places where green shoots are sprouting.
In the last four years, three Britons have won junior Grand Slam titles. The reigning US Open junior champion, Oliver Golding, 18, makes his main-draw Wimbledon debut today against Russia's Igor Andreev. Laura Robson, 18, the 2008 Wimbledon girls' champion, and Heather Watson, 20, the 2009 US Open girls' champion, will be making their fourth and third appearances respectively over the next two days.
Robson, who tomorrow faces the former French Open champion, Francesca Schiavone, has just broken into the world's top 100 for the first time. At No 97 Robson is the new British No 2, just four ranking places above Elena Baltacha and six ahead of Watson, who meets the Czech Republic's Iveta Benesova today.
For the time being, nevertheless, the old guard are clinging on at the top of the British women's rankings. Baltacha had been No 1 for two and a half years until a fortnight ago, when her fellow 28-year-old, Anne Keothavong, regained top spot.
Keothavong, who plays her first-round match against Spain's Laura Pous-Tio tomorrow, has twice had lengthy spells out with serious knee injuries. "I think it shows courage and the hard work that I've done and the perseverance," Keothavong said. "And I still believe I can improve and get back inside the top 50. That's definitely something that keeps me motivated."
An equally major motivation in recent years has been this summer's Olympic tournament at Wimbledon. Although Keothavong's ranking is unlikely to be high enough to earn a place in the 64-strong field, the world No 77 is expected to be awarded a wild card as British No 1.
"It's been a huge goal, ever since London got the Olympics," Keothavong said. "I remember going to a lunch at the All England Club with people from the British Olympic Association when they were trying to sell the idea of London. I remember then wanting to be part of it. I've never been part of an Olympic team before, so for me it's always been a goal."
Keothavong, who was brought up in Hackney, just a few minutes from the Olympic park, remembered the moment in 2005 when London was awarded the Games. "I was in the States at a tournament watching it on TV," she said. "I probably thought: Well, I'll be 28 by the time the Games come around. I hope I'll still be playing'."
Nevertheless there have been times, particularly when she struggled after returning from injury, when Keothavong came close to giving up the sport. "I thought I'd shoot back up the rankings and soon be back where I left off," she said. "That didn't quite happen and it was incredibly frustrating.
"At the time I was quite angry. I would think: how could I possibly have injured myself when I was playing some of the best tennis of my career? If I'm not physically able to do what I want to do and I'm not able to get back to where I was, then what's the point? Those things go through your head, but I persevered with it and ultimately it came down to the fact that I still wanted to challenge myself, to see how well I could do."
Two more British women are in the field courtesy of wild cards and playing this afternoon. Johanna Konta, 21, who was born and brought up in Australia but was recently awarded British citizenship having lived here for seven years, faces Christina McHale, while 22-year-old Naomi Broady meets Spain's Lourdes Dominguez Lino.
James Ward, Jamie Baker and Josh Goodall complete the men's British contingent.
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