Getting to Know... Melanie South
LONDON, England - After reaching the semis at Auckland in January and Memphis last week, Anne Keothavong became the first Brit to rank inside the world's Top 50 since Jo Durie - 16 long years ago. But the 25-year-old Londoner isn't the only Englishwoman making gains on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour. Hot on her heels, Surrey-based Melanie South slashed her ranking by half in 2008 and has her sights set on bigger things in 2009.
After reaching four finals in a row on the ITF Circuit late last year (winning one of them, in Port Pirie, South Australia), the 22-year-old, 5'9" player fell in the first round of the Australian Open to Marion Bartoli, but nonetheless made her Top 100 debut at No.99 in early February. With previous results such as a quarterfinal run at Birmingham and last 16 showing at Los Angeles under her belt, she is intent on making a few headlines herself.
We spoke to Melanie at the Medibank International in Sydney, where she successfully played her way through qualifying before falling to Caroline Wozniacki in the second round.
How did you get into tennis?
MS: Both my parents were involved in the sport - my mum coached mini-tennis and my dad coached at a local club, just at a basic level, and my brother used to play so I used to go out and pick up the balls for him.
At what point did you decide it was something you wanted to pursue professionally?
MS: I think you just gradually get into it more and more. I started traveling when I was young - I think I first went away when I was 12 - and I just loved being away from home really, being with other girls. I had fun on the road and enjoyed playing tennis.
What's your coaching situation at the moment?
MS: I'm essentially with the LTA (Lawn Tennis Association) in London, and I've got an Australian coach, Simon Walsh. I've been with him for the past year. It's going really well.
What's the best thing about life on the Tour? Is that camaraderie with other players still important to you?
MS: Yes, but it's slightly different from when you're younger and it's like you're all sisters... now we're all competing. There are still tough sides to it, like not being with your friends and family, but I still love traveling and seeing different places. I love Australia - I spent my off season training in Sydney and I have lots of support out there.
Aside from the Australian tournaments, do you have other favorites?
MS: For sure Wimbledon's got to be my favorite, being home. I used to have tennis lessons across the road and I'd hear the crowds and hoped one day that would be for me. So it's been really special playing back there. Aside from Australia I also like Japan.
The British press can be a pretty hard taskmaster at times. How do you feel you cope with the pressure of expectation, especially during the grasscourt season?
MS: They are pretty tough, but then it's also good to be in that situation, out there playing in the spotlight. At the end of the day you do what you've got to do, and if they write good things that's obviously a bonus. You just have to see what comes out and then respond to it.
Anne Keothavong has had some great results lately… does it spur you on to see fellow Brits doing well?
MS: Absolutely. The past year or so a few of us have being doing well and obviously now Anne's pushed on and made a big jump for her and broken a big barrier for British players. Hopefully I'm just behind her. We push each other the whole time. Realistically, I think I can play Top 50 tennis - it's just a matter of keeping up my consistency.
You had some good results on the Tour in the middle of last year; how did you handle going from that sort of environment back to the ITF Circuit events? Is it a difficult adjustment?
MS: It was definitely tough but I had to do it because of where my ranking was at. I had to go back to the Challengers and get my points that way. It can be hard to maintain the intensity when you've been somewhere with lots of support and interest and then you find yourself in the middle of nowhere. You just have to keep your own motivation levels up. But you play a lot of matches and that gives you confidence.
My main goal was to get my ranking up so I'd get into the main draw of the Australian Open, which I achieved, so that's great - my first Grand Slam main draw outside Wimbledon. My goal for this year is to play more Tour events and really boost my ranking.
What do you consider your greatest strengths as a player?
MS: I'm pretty powerful, and can be aggressive on the court.
MS: We're working on them!
Biggest win to date?
MS: I beat Francesca Schiavone in the first round of Wimbledon a couple of years ago, when she was in the Top 20.
If you have a bit of free time on the road, what do you like to do to relax? Are you someone who likes to go sightseeing?
MS: I like to chill out, we don't get that many days off so when they come along I do like to rest as much as possible. I never used to worry too much about seeing the sights but now I try to do something, otherwise you just see the hotel and the tennis courts.
Do you have any hobbies?
MS: Nothing serious, but I like swimming. When I was younger I thought I'd like to be a swimmer or a tennis player.
If you could take on a player from the past, who would it be?
MS: Monica Seles - she was the one I always looked at when I was growing up. I'm always surprised I'm not double-handed both sides because of her. She used to train at my club during Wimbledon... it was always amazing just to watch her.