Wimbledon `97: Hannah's manner full of promise

Richard Edmondson sees a 15-year-old British girl add to the feelgood factor
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The Independent Online
Britain's last Wimbledon singles winner was on court in SW19 yesterday and many believe the next was as well. But while Tim Henman is popularly imagined as the next champion within these shores, it could be that the real saviour was operating on the sedate lawn of court No 6.

There is a quarry somewhere in the West Country full of rusty players who once carried the banner of Britain's great white hope, yet there is genuine anticipation that Hannah Collin, a contestant yesterday in the girls' singles, can mature into a considerable force.

Collin's historical point of reference was creaking around on court No 19 yesterday, where Virginia Wade and Wendy Turnbull were locked in grey combat with Mima Jausovec and Yvonne Vermaak. It is 20 years since Virginia first proved that Dutch monoliths hold no terrors for our finest, defeating Betty Stove in three sets. She is 52 next week but the years have been most benevolent. A silver-flecked bearskin of a coiffure remains her dominant feature.

Turnbull formerly carried the sobriquet of "the rabbit", such was her spry manoeuvrability about the court. It would be unfair to say she has now transmogrified into "the tortoise", but a lot of pies have certainly disappeared. Nevertheless, as became apparent more than once yesterday, appearances can be deceptive.

The guile that helped Turnbull to nine grand slam doubles and 12 senior grand slam doubles titles has not yet fled her body, and she and Virginia won 6-3, 6-4 in an over-35s category that has become their personal preserve.

Court craft is already one of the greater attributes of Hannah Collin at the age of 15. The girl from Thames Ditton in Surrey took up the game as a seven-year-old and has progressed to the stage where she is now our national 16 and under champion.

Last year she reached the quarter-finals of the Orange Bowl, the unofficial junior world championships, and also led her nation to the world junior team final in Nagoya, Japan. Hannah will not have to look to far for inspiration this week as her coach, the former American Wightman Cup player Sharon Walsh, is also participating in the over-35s doubles.

Those who arrived at Hannah's game yesterday would have been initially staggered by the cheek of one of the ball retrieving personnel who had arrived in playing gear. This figure transpired to be Collin herself.

Our pony-tailed tyro may only be a year younger than Martina Hingis, but the temptation is still to pat on her head and ask about stamp collections or progress through the guides. She has the sort of cherubic countenance you might see looking up animatedly at the Christmas tree baubles, but these are alligator eyes lurking just below the surface. Miss Collin is a lot more than she seems.

The backhand is double-handed and consistent, but the punishing weapon is on the other flank. This armoury was all too much for the physically maturer Sarah Taylor, who had not been sent over by the Americans to collect postcards. She was dismissed 6-2, 6-2.

"I'd love to be a professional tennis player but most of all I just want to keep enjoying it," Collin said. "I want to make it as a top player but I'm not setting any targets because I know it's going to be quite tough. My life is just tennis and school at the moment. I'm missing out on some things, but I'm gaining other things being a tennis player - meetings lots of people and travelling the world."

Collin's success was a victory for nerve as she overcame a factor you do not get in senior tennis. "I lost to Sarah a couple of years ago and, when I first saw her today, the first thing I noticed was how much she'd grown," Hannah said.