Charlotte's a jewel
NO-NONSENSE national coach Alan Jones betrayed some frustration at the British feeder system after 15 minutes hitting on court with rare County jewel Charlotte Gibbons last week.
It seems the hard-hitting Irchester teenager has been Northamptonshire's best-kept secret for the last three years – and Jones wants to know why.
Gibbons travelled with her father Brian to Hazelwood near Enfield and came under the microscopic scrutiny of Jones and former British number one ladies player Jo Durie, who was hitting for 20 minutes with the Northants youngster.
The end product saw Jones spitting feathers and demanding to know why Gibbons' talent hadn't been brought to his attention earlier.
Jones' reputation is a direct one and Gibbons snr reported: "I bumped into him as he arrived when Charlotte had already gone onto the indoor tar courts to warm up."Once he had introduced himself he told me that he wouldn't waste our time or rip us off. But that if Charlotte was trash, merely a decent county or club player, he would tell me."
Having later viewed the evidence on offer, Jones was almost apoplectic with frustration, cutting an animated figure as he stood holding his head between his hands and literally tearing at his hair.
Jones' verdict was: "You have to have a measure of perspective about the whole thing. Charlotte Gibbons is totally unexposed as a player. She now has to mix it with better players and see where we are a year or so down the line. We can criticise systems but parents also have to take responsibility."
Jones must have been impressed by something though, as Gibbons was hurried back to Hazelwood the following day for a session involving some of the LTA's top juniors and now has an ongoing commitment for weekly trips to Sutton Coldfield where she will be coached, on Jones' advice, by Chris Johnson.
Gibbons said: "At one point it seemed as though Alan Jones was having a go at me for not putting Charlotte through the proper channels. But Tom Hadley from Technifibre, who had set up the hitting session, pointed out that he was frustrated at the system.
"It seems at least 90 per cent of the young players he (Jones) looks at get turned away. He pointed at the other girls who included Elena Baltacha and asked: 'Where has Charlotte been for the last three years?'
"If she had come under my wing then she would be in that squad over there now."
Baltacha is the Ukrainian-born former number one and, at 20, is staging a comeback on the national scene after suffering a liver problem last year.
Gibbons has been used to coaching for four hours a week. But Jones wants that increased to 12 with perhaps two-weekly excursions to the West Midlands.
That creates headaches in the 15-year-old's GCSE year but all concerned are keen to push the tennis card as far as it will go and negotiations are ongoing with Wollaston School.
"Allan Jones told me that Charlotte has so much talent and natural ability and that we had been playing in the wrong kind of events.
"He told me to take her out of the Norwich League (which she has won three times) immediately. She needs to be playing better standard players, even if she loses in the short run, in order to improve further."
21 January 2004