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SURREY COMET - 13/12/2006


New Malden tennis professional Melanie South is planning a year of Grand Slam competition after finishing 2006 ranked in the world's top 200 for singles and doubles.

The 20-year-old heads to Dubai this week for her final professional tournament before Christmas, days after completing a gruelling schedule of 17 competitions in six different countries since appearing at the US Open in New York in September.

It has seen the British number two hit a career high singles ranking of 166, while two doubles titles have lifted her to 198 in the world in her least favoured discipline.

Her combined efforts mean qualification for a shot at the Australian Open in January is assured with appearances at the French Open, Wimbledon and a return trip to America on the horizon.

It has come on the back of a punishing programme, which has seen her play 37 matches in 67 days while visiting tennis outposts in Scotland, France, Australia and China.

But South has hit back at critics who claim she is playing too much by revealing there will be no let up as she bids to break into the top 150 in 2007.

"Every tournament I have played since the US Open I haven't been defending any ranking points so everything I have been getting has been a bonus," she said.

"People say I'm playing too many matches, but I'm trying to get as many ranking points as possible before I start having to defend them.

I had a few first round exits in Autumn and I have had to make up for them by playing more. I want to keep pushing on.

My main block of competition comes between May and August, so the more I can play at the beginning of the year the better.

Hopefully, I can break the 150 mark by August and see where I go from there."

South has come a long way in 12 months since lifting her first title of the year in January - 1 $10,000 tournament in Hull with her doubles and singles stock rising a combined total of 551 places.

She lifted her maiden $25,000 singles trophy at the end of July, four weeks after causing a major upset in beating world number 11 Francesca Schiavone in the first round at Wimbledon.

The former Nonsuch School student has changed doubles partner fives times since long-time colleague Katie O'Brien.

And despite the move seeming to have paid off South has not ruled out teaming up with her again.

"You are always looking to find someone you play well with and we just felt we needed a break to freshen things up," she added.

"It really put the fun back into things and we have both improved our doubles ranking since, but I'm sure we will play together again."

Her fantastic year means instead of preparing for a trip to Hull again in January, she will trade New Malden for New Zealand during the festive period, before preparing for her debut appearance at the Australian Open in Melbourne.

And South is delighted to be leaving the chilly shores of the UK behind her.

"To think I'm choosing between going playing in Auckland and Sydney this year compared to last year shows how far I've come," she added.

"Playing in Dubai will be a great opportunity to boost the rankings again and get in some training away from the darkness of England, which does nothing for your motivation.

"Travelling and not seeing much of your family takes it out of you, but it is not too bad when you think of what I could be doing."

Ranking January 1, 2006: Singles 449 Doubles 467
February: Wins $10,000 tournament in Hull
May: Semi-finalist at $25,000 tournament in Tenerife
July: Defeats world number 11-ranked Italian Francesca Schiavone in first round of Wimbledon: semi-finalist at $25,000 tourament in Felixstowe; wins $25,000 tournament in Chengdu
October: Quarter-finalist $25,000 tournament in Jersey
November: Sem-finalist $25,000 tournament in Port Pirie, Australia

Ranking December 8, 2006: Singles 167 Doubles 198

by Stuart Amos

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