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Sunday, June 21, 2009

Anne ready for home glory

Anne Keothavong

Anne Keothavong is determined to prove she can cut it on the big stage and put her French Open nightmare behind her.

The British number one has made big strides this season, breaking into the world's top 50 and reaching three semi-finals in her first full season on the WTA Tour.

The latest of those came at the Premier-level tournament in Warsaw, making her the first British woman since Jo Durie in 1983 to play in a semi-final on clay.

That high, however, was swiftly followed by a very public low as she was beaten 6-0 6-0 by top seed Dinara Safina in the first round of the French Open.

Knowing that, for once, the world was watching made it a bitter pill to swallow for the 25-year-old.

She said: "It was obviously tough. To come up against one of the favourites for the title is always a tough challenge but the scoreline didn't reflect the match.

"It's hard to take when it's on such a big stage and it can knock you a little bit but I've got to look on the bright side.

"Hopefully my time will come and I can prove to people I can compete and win matches at grand slams."

Although Andy Murray understandably attracts most of the media attention, the improvement in women's tennis in Britain has not gone unnoticed.

Keothavong, at number 49 in the world, has made the jump to world class while Mel South, Katie O'Brien and Elena Baltacha are all just outside the top 100.

South and O'Brien were also in the main draw at Roland Garros but joined Keothavong in a first-round exit, and the Londoner is hoping the public will be patient.

"British women's tennis has taken such a step forward but people have to remember it's not going to change dramatically overnight," she continued.

"But it's moving in the right direction. Myself, Mel and Katie, we're all very dedicated to what we do and we've worked very hard, it hasn't just been handed to us on a plate."

Waiting in the wings is junior world number one Laura Robson, who burst on to the scene by winning the girls' singles title at Wimbledon last year as a 14-year-old.

The teenager is sure to be the focus of attention at SW19 again this year having been handed a wild card into the main draw but Keothavong knows it is too early to be mapping out a glorious career.

She said: "She's someone who has shown great potential in the juniors but the senior game is completely different and it's still so early for her, you can't put too much pressure on her.

"She needs to be left to progress. But you certainly don't see too many people with so much potential."

For Keothavong, who learned her tennis on public courts in Hackney, progress to the higher echelons of the game has been a question of patience.

The potential was always there but injuries dogged her early career and it was not until last year she finally made the breakthrough into the top 100.

A third-round appearance at the US Open followed and she has continued her improvement from there.

"I've been very patient and I've persevered," she reflected. "I've had setbacks but I've picked myself up and that kind of attitude can take you a long way. Now I have to find ways to keep improving."

As for her hopes at the All England Club, Keothavong is just hoping for some good news when the draw is made.

"The draw does play a part, it can go one way or the other. But whoever you play is going to be tough opposition. You've got to go out there and give it a go.

"It's my favourite tournament and every year I hope to win a few matches. But let's just take it one match at a time and focus on that," she added.

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