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MAIL ON LINE - 15/01/2009

MELANIE GOES SOUTH TO CRACK TOP 100

Melanie goes South to crack top 100 and a place in the Australian Open

Sunny South: Melanie is nudging the world's top 100

Nobody needs to tell Melanie South just how long and winding the road is to the world's top 100. The 22-year-old daughter of an ex-footballer left home in New Malden, Surrey in September and will not be going back until her business is finished at the Australian Open.

She has played a dizzying schedule of events around Asia and Australia, but the reward for her globetrotting is a place in the Open draw by right and, possibly, the achievement of her immediate goal to join Anne Keothavong in the top 100.

The ranking will be secured if she wins a round in the year's opening Grand Slam and South was waiting anxiously for Thursday night's draw.

'I could say that the last few months have been hard, but the truth is that I like life on the road,' says South, who learned a lot of her tennis on courts across the road from the All England Club.

'I have really enjoyed myself. Of course, you miss friends and family when you're away on a long trip like this but I have spent a lot of time in Australia and I consider it my second home. I knew I was going to have to play a lot if I'm going to achieve my ambitions.'

It is indicative of the years of failure that next week will be the first time since Jo Durie and Clare Wood played at the 1993 U.S. Open that two British women will be in a Grand Slam field without needing a wildcard.

But things are slowly improving and beneath the more high-profile successes of Keothavong and Laura Robson - who will be in the junior event - there are a group of players gradually on the up.

While they were facing further matches on Friday, the progress of Britain's women was indicated by their fortunes in the first round of Open qualifying. Katie O' Brien, Georgie Stoop and Elena Baltacha all progressed without dropping a set.

For South, whose father John played for Brentford in the Sixties, one key has been the hiring of Australian coach Simon Walsh by the Lawn Tennis Association. He is an expert in taking players from being also-rans into the top 100

He helped Keothavong do it before devoting his energies to South. She reached the second round of this week's Sydney Open, meaning that her ranking on Monday is likely to be one or two outside the top 100.

South said: 'When you get a wildcard at Wimbledon you are very grateful but it's a great feeling walking around here at another Grand Slam knowing that you are in the field purely because you have earned it. That does great things for your confidence



by MIKE DICKSON



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