Keothavong win ends long wait for women

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The Independent Online

Anne Keothavong did something yesterday that no British woman has done at Wimbledon for two years: she won a tennis match. Not only that, the British No 1 and world No 188 did it in style, beating Australia's Nicole Pratt, ranked 147 places higher, in straight sets, 6-3, 6-1.

Anne Keothavong did something yesterday that no British woman has done at Wimbledon for two years: she won a tennis match. Not only that, the British No 1 and world No 188 did it in style, beating Australia's Nicole Pratt, ranked 147 places higher, in straight sets, 6-3, 6-1.

It was the biggest win of Keothavong's career in terms of her opponent's ranking. It was also the first time she had progressed past the women's first round here in four attempts. Her previous best run in SW19 took her to the girls' singles semi-final three years ago.

"It's nice to finally get a [senior] win under my belt here," said the 20-year-old Londoner. "This year is the best I've felt coming into the tournament. I feel like I'm a better player, more mature in the way I play."

That much was evident against Pratt, who took a 3-1 lead in the opening set before rain delayed play. Keothavong re-emerged refreshed to take five consecutive games and the first set. "I think the rain delay helped me enormously," she said, acknowledging her nerves had contributed to her jittery start. "It gave me a chance to just calm down and regroup."

Pratt held her opening service game in the second set but the momentum was with the British player, who rattled off six straight games for a comprehensive win.

Keothavong, born in Hackney of Laotian parents, credited Martina Hingis with helping her game. The former world No 1 and 1997 Wimbledon champion was the "mentor" at a training camp Keothavong attended in America last December. "She helped all of us," Keothavong said. "We spent time with her on court, off court. She's still a great player and she still duffed us all up. But she was happy to answer all our questions, about the tour, about how to deal with everything."

Hingis's main advice, apparently, was "try to enjoy it". "I think that was probably the best advice you give to anyone," Keothavong said.

Someone else enjoying SW19 yesterday was Emily Webley-Smith, who shocked Severine Beltrame by winning in straight sets. It would be premature to herald the wins as a renaissance for the women's game in Britain. It was only 12 months ago that all the "home hopes" - an oxymoron, if ever there was one - crashed out in their first matches.

But two victories for British women are still two more than last year. And it is encouraging that Keothavong's progress can partly be attributed to an LTA initiative to promote tennis in inner cities. One of her regular practice venues is Hackney's Clissold Park, a base for the City Tennis scheme.

It seemed, for a short time yesterday, that Amanda Janes might join Keothavong in the second round. The British No 2 played confidently to take a one-set lead against the world No 12, Ai Sugiyama, but experience asserted itself and she lost in three sets, 3-6, 6-2, 6-3.

Experience and class, in the shape of the men's defending champion and world No 1, Roger Federer, were the downfall of another Briton, Alex Bogdanovic, who lost 6-3, 6-3, 6-0.

"It was a great experience," said the 20-year-old Bogdanovic. "[But] I felt I was always under pressure. And when you feel like you're struggling for your service games, then obviously it's tough."

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