Misunderstood Raymond prepares for a singles life

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The Independent Online

Lisa Raymond is forever suffering from an identity crisis. No matter how well she plays in the singles (she is one of only a handful of players to have defeated the Australian and French Open champion, Jennifer Capriati, this year), most people automatically associate her with success in the doubles. "It drives me mad," she says.

No wonder. Raymond is, after all, the reigning Edgbaston champion. She has also reached the fourth round at Wimbledon on four occasions, including last year's career-best quarter-final appearance. So why is she continuously pigeon-holed as a doubles specialist? That is, she jokes, the $68,000 question.

"No one ever remembers that I've been as high as 15 in the singles' rankings," complained the American, during another one of yesterday's lengthy showers at the DFS Classic tournament in Birmingham, which will now be completed tomorrow. "I can't seem to shake the label."

At least Raymond is in good company. Indeed, this is not the first time that a player's good singles performances have been overlooked. Jana Novotna, for example, won the Wimbledon doubles title in 1989 and was often perceived as no more than an average singles player, until she triumphed on her own at the All England Championships in 1998.

Granted, Raymond's greatest achievements have come alongside her doubles partner, Rennae Stubbs, most notably when the pair won the Australian Open in 2000. But the 27-year-old insists that her singles career remains the priority.

"I put a lot of effort into improving my singles rankings," she says. "My training in the gym and on court is aimed at helping me become a better individual, not team, player. That's why I find it so frustrating when people assume that all I care about is playing doubles."

Raymond adds, "I would say that I dedicate no more than a fifth of my time to doubles. I'm not like Gigi Fernandez, who made doubles her game. I think the confusion has arisen because when I'm around at the end of major tournaments, it's usually thanks to my performances with Rennae. Don't get me wrong, I am very proud of our record together, it's just that I feel there's more to me than that."

Raymond will be looking to prove her point over the coming weeks. Weather permitting, she will probably play France's grass-court specialist, Nathalie Tauziat, in today's much- delayed semi-final. It is the sort of difficult match which she needs to win if she is to stand any realistic chance of making good progress at Wimbledon. "What's most important," she says looking up at the dark skies, "is that I get some match practice. There are only a few grass events each year, so I have to make the best of this week and the next [at Eastbourne]."

So far as Raymond, who first picked up a racket at the age of seven in her local club in Wayne, Pennsylvania, is concerned, this could be the most open Wimbledon in years. "There are a lot of girls who could walk away with the trophy," she says. "Several players are missing through injury [Mary Pierce and Monica Seles], others are not at their best [the Williams sisters], and some are returning after lengthy lay-offs [Lindsay Davenport], so there's no reason why an outsider can't win."

Predictably, though, Raymond will not stick her neck out and put her name in the frame. "All I know," she says, "is how great I felt when I left the Edgbaston club last year, having won the tournament. That's made me very keen to get some more success on grass in the next couple of weeks." In the singles, of course.