Wood's win puts her in 200 club

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The Independent Online
More British resolve was shown than we have come to expect on the opening day of the women's international tournament here. Clare Wood advanced to the second round in impressive style, and Sam Smith's performance was more encouraging than the result achieved.

Wood, a wild card entry, required only 17 minutes to win the final set 6-0 - losing only two of the 26 points - in defeating Karina Habsudova, a Slovak ranked 178 paces above her at No 39 in the world. The 27-year-old from Sussex now plays the Czech Helena Sukova, a finalist last year and in 1990, hoping to improve on defeats in their four previous matches.

Smith, a qualifier, was unable to convert a match point before being eliminated by Sweden's Asa Carlsson, 3-6, 7-6, 6-2. The 23-year-old from Essex suddenly became tentative on the forehand, presenting her opponent with an opportunity to pass her with a backhand drive. But in order to approach the point of victory, Smith recovered from 1-5 in the second set and 2-5 in the tie-break.

Both Britons have emerged from a period in limbo. Wood's progress has been hindered for more than a year by the affects of a torn hamstring, and Smith took three years out of the sport to study for a degree in history.

Once ranked as high as No 103, Smith, who had only played a couple of satellite events on the way to the Brighton Centre, has yet to have her return to the game confirmed by the WTA Tour's computer. The 20-year-old Carlsson is ranked No 52. In the circumstances, Smith can be credited with not looking out of place at this level.

Having decided to resume her career after graduation, Smith was further encouraged by the poor state of the British game. "I watched a lot of English girls at Wimbledon and thought maybe I could do a bit better," she said. "It's a bit sad for British tennis, but good for me. There's a huge gap, with nobody ranked above 200, which means there's a huge opportunity for somebody who can get up to the top 100 to make an impact.''

Wood's win yesterday will lift her back into the top 200. Once ranked as high as No 77, she has struggled to keep pace with the game since injuring her right leg after being persuaded to play while attending a charity event on the day of last year's Wimbledon men's singles final.

Before meeting Habsudova, Wood had won only two main draw matches all year.Yesterday, Wood was able to set aside the disappointment of double-faulting when leading 4-3 in the second set tie-break, which she lost, 7-5.

"After that I tightened up my game a little and made sure I didn't give her many cheap points, which I did to lose the tie-break," Wood said. "I was prepared to stay out there all day if necessary, but luckily I came out really firing in the first game of the third set, and she was making the errors.''

Steffi Graf, who has won the title six times, plays her opening match today against the sturdy Mariaan De Swardt, of South Africa, ranked No 54.