Surbiton Wildcards released
May 29, 2002
BRITS BALTACHA, KEOTHAVONG AND O'DONOGHUE EARN WILD CARDS TO SURBITON
BRITAIN'S Elena Baltacha (Scotland), Anne Keothavong (Middlesex) and Jane O'Donoghue (Lancashire) have all earned wild cards into next week's $25,000 event at The Surbiton Trophy, which marks the official start of the grass court season from Monday 3 - Saturday 8 June (qualifying Saturday 1 - Sunday 2 June).
Baltacha used Surbiton last year as her springboard to a successful summer on grass.
Having powered her way into the Surbiton semis she impressively qualified at Eastbourne on the way to a first round meeting with Conchita Martinez.
A week later she made her Wimbledon debut on Centre Court, where she put up a respectable 6-1 7-5 performance against French girl Natalie Dechy. The following week she progressed to the semi finals of the junior event where she produced the joint third fastest women's serve of the Championships timed at 118mph!
Fellow 18 year old Anne Keothavong, who like Baltacha is coached by Jo Durie and Alan Jones, also made the semi finals of last year's junior Wimbledon event.
The lesser known Wigan 19 year old, Jane O'Donoghue has recently had her share of media interest and is part of the increasingly healthy British women's scene.
Having spent six months with a knee injury, O'Donoghue exploded back onto the circuit this month, achieving what no British girl had previously managed with $10,000 wins on the clay courts of Bournemouth and Hatfield.
"I'm very hungry to play this year," said O'Donoghue this week. "I'm technically stronger, very fit and mentally I'm working at a different level.
"Its great to see Baltacha and Keothavong doing well because it makes me want to get better and to get my ranking above them. Its good to have a group of British girls who are pushing each other."
The British girls go directly into a Surbiton main draw, which could be the strongest yet. All four semi finalists from last year's Ladies $25,000 event have signed in.
Title holder, Japan's Rika Fujiwara plans to return and so does American Kristina Brandi, last year's top seed and beaten finalist. Following Surbiton, Brandi's 2001 grass court season saw her reach the quarter finals at both Birmingham and Hertogenbosch.
Barring illness and injury, this year's women's top seed should be Surbiton regular, Alexandra Stevenson. The 6'1" Californian arrived at Surbiton three years ago as an unknown 18 year old. Four weeks later she caused one of the big sensations at Wimbledon in becoming the first women qualifier to reach the semi final.
Stevenson's career has certainly taken an upward spiral since those early days. At the time of entry to Surbiton she was ranked No.29 in the world after an early season spent mixing with the top names of the sport.
In January she defeated world No.2, Jennifer Capriati 7-6(5), 3-6, 6-4 in the second round at Sydney -her best result todate. A month later, as a qualifier at Tokyo, she upset world No.19, Amanda Coetzer 4-6, 6-0, 7-6(3) before narrowly losing to No. 10 Monica Seles 7-6(9), 7-6(9), having held three set points in the first and eight in the second.
And at Miami in March she defeated Magdalena Maleeva before losing the fourth round to former No. 1 Martina Hingis.
Also notable on this year's women's entry is 2001 semi finalist, Janet Lee from Taipei plus Brits, Lucie Ahl and Julie Pullin. Qualifying wild cards have been awarded to Anna Hawkins (Wiltshire), Cristelle Grier (Surrey), Emily Webley-Smith (Avon) and Rebecca Dandeniya (Surrey).
The Men's $50,000 Challenger that title holder Taylor Dent (USA) will also head back to Surbiton this year, along with a supporting cast of grass court talent, including former Olympic champion, Marc Rosset (Switzerland), the fast serving Aussie, Wayne Arthurs, Zimbabwe Black brothers, Byron and Wayne, plus Britons Lee Childs, Jamie Delgado, Martin Lee and Arvind Parmar.