O'Brien's win masks dearth of young talent

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The Independent Online

Katie O'Brien achieved something last night that her senior colleagues in British women's tennis can only dream about. The 17-year-old, competing in the girls' singles here, progressed to the third round of a Grand Slam.

Having ousted the No 6 seed, Katerina Bohmova of the Czech Republic, in her first match in three sets the lass from Beverley in Yorkshire made swifter work of beating Madalina Gojnea of Romania, 6-4, 6-2. Only four more successes and Britain will have a champion on its hands. Who says the well of home-grown talent has run dry?

Actually, the hard facts say it. There are no British girls in the world's top 100. O'Brien is among the highest flyers at No 142. The six British girls who entered here were only able to do so thanks to wild cards. O'Brien stands alone in the third round. The other five all fell at the first hurdle.

Britain has greater strength in the boys' game, with eight players ranked in the world's top 100, led by David Brewer, the 18-year-old world No 19. But as Jeremy Bates points out, even this seemingly promising state of affairs is no guarantee of future senior contenders.

"Junior tennis needs to be kept in perspective," said Bates, the former British men's No 1 who is now the LTA's head of national training (men and boys). "The statistics show that only four of the top 10 in the boys' rankings at any one time will ever make it into the men's top 100.

"But it's encouraging to see Britain had six boys entering here by right, four by direct acceptance and another two qualifying [with a further five entering as wild cards]. It's necessary to have strength in depth among the younger players."

Six of the 11 British representatives in the boys' singles lost in the first round. The other five either played their second-round matches yesterday or will do so today. Joshua Goodhall, a 17-year-old from Basingstoke, emulated Katie O'Brien's feat by progressing to the third round. He upset the No 14 seed, Hyun-Joon Suk of Korea, in straight sets, 6-1, 7-6, to provide a boon for the LTA.

Another potential boon for British tennis is someone who is not even competing here. His name is Ned Boone, he is 15 years old, and he has already decided that British junior tennis is simply too uncompetitive an arena in which to make progress. He does not train under the auspices of the LTA and has spent a lot of time playing in Europe, where he believes his game will improve. He is coached by Brad Langevad, an Australian who used to work with Greg Rusedski, and often hits with Pat Cash. Boone hopes to be here next year.