The Brits had not yet resigned themselves to the fact the situation was hopeless but not serious.
Tennis: British women claim to be moving in the right direction
January 8, 1987
BARRY WOOD, SYDNEY
On the face of it, nothing much seems to have changed as far as the fortunes of British women's tennis is concerned in 1987. The straight sets' defeat suffered this week by two British players, Jo Durie and Sara Gomer, by Americans in the second round of the New South Wales open tournament in Sydney hardly indicates that this year is going to be any better than 1986, which, on a team basis, was a total disaster.
A first-round crushing by lowly Denmark in the Federation Cup in Prague was followed by a 7-0 whitewash by a second rate American team in the Wightman Cup on home ground at the Albert Hall.
But, conversely, individual performances by some leading players have shown promise. The exception was Annabel Croft, masquerading as Britain's No 1 on the basis that on the week the new rankings were announced last year, she was placed above Miss Durie on the computer.
Miss Croft admitted openly that she had considered retiring before her success in San Diego in May, 1985, resulted in her first tournament title and a period of respectability. Those thoughts crossed her mind again during 1986 and, although she pulled off a couple of victories at the US Open, they were isolated successes in a dismal year.
She has been concerned enough to take several weeks off, to work on her fitness and game. After forgoing the Australian circuit, Miss Croft returns in February in Oklahoma and will be encouraged by the knowledge that the smallest success will offset last year's lost computer points and lift her up the rankings again.
Miss Durie, now restored to the No 1 position, had a fine year and continued to climb back towards the world's top 20 once again. In fact, she moved up to 19th before finishing the year at 24. Her ling-time coach, Alan Jones, considered that her progress would have been even more pronounced if it had not been for some niggling injuries.
''There are times when her tennis still isn't good enough, and Jo is always the first to say 'Yes, I've got to improve' or 'I wasn't good enough today'. But what people don't realize is the number of times Jo has plugged away at tournaments when a lot of people would have pulled out because of injury,'' he said.
A severe back injury that required surgery and kept her out of tennis for most of 1981 still plays on her mind. ''Subconsciously, I can't forget about my back operation,'' she said. ''I know that the same thing isn't going to happen again, but I suppose it's always in the back of my mind.
''That doesn't help my confidence, and it makes me hold back sometimes because I know that if I go into a certain position it's going to hurt.''
Despite her progress during the past year, in which she has become a better player than when she reached the top five three years ago, she has received a lot of criticism. ''It makes me mad when people say that I haven't had a good year. I reached the quarter-finals of three tournaments and the semi-finals of Mahwah, where I went three sets with Steffi Graf. Throughout the year, I've had pretty steady results.''
Along with Miss Durie's progress, British hopes for the future have been boosted by the steady development of Miss Gomer, whose enormous maturity over the past 12 months has been reflected in many fighting performances. The girl from Torquay has threatened several of the leading players and a major victory is not far away. ''The year exceeded my expectations,'' Miss Gomer enthused. ''Much of my success is due to Ken Fletcher. I worked with him solidly for a month after Wimbledon, the hardest I've ever worked, and then I went out to America and had my best results. I now put far more thought into the game.''
For Anne Hobbs, the year was another frustrating round of injuries. She was unable to follow up her tournament victory in New Zealand at the end of 1985, and her ranking subsequently slumped to 99 by the end of the year. Nevertheless, she maintains her positive outlook. ''Looking into 1987, my main ambition is to play the full year,'' she said. ''In 1986, I was out for four or five months with a double stomach muscle injury. The split from my coach, Chris Bradnam, really upset me, but we got back together in September.
''Now I'm very fit, probably the fittest I've ever been. Mentally I'm strong. I'm giving myself another three years. I mean, I'm not going to be a world number one, but during the last few months I feel I have been playing really well, and if I keep playing like that, then I'm going to start winning again.''