9:18am Tuesday 9th June 2009
New Malden's Mel South believes she’s leaner and meaner after sending close friend Katie O’Brien crashing out of the AEGON Classic in Birmingham.
The British No. 4 has only just returned to action after a seven week break to improve her fitness but that hard work paid off as she won 6-4, 1-6, 7-6 in a titanic struggle with O’Brien.
The 23-year-old, who reached the last eight at Edgbaston 12 months ago, has slipped out of the top 100 in the world during her fitness focus, but is convinced she has returned a much better player.
“The training has gone really well and it definitely helped me in this match,” said South.
“I’ve always worked hard on my fitness, just not in the right areas. I spent more hours in the gym than almost anyone else but I wasn’t seeing the improvement.
“I was tiring myself out and not recovering but now I’m working even harder but getting time to recover and that’s helped no end.
“Towards the end of the match I started playing really well and I’m confident that I can do well here this week.
“My first aim is to get back into the top 100 as soon as possible. There are a lot of ranking points available over this period.
“With all the training I’ve done I know I can break the top 50 in the world – I got into the top 100 not feeling very fit so it’s more of a realistic goal now.”
South, who made the quarter-finals in Nottingham last week, will now face top seed and world No. 16 Jhi Zheng in the second round.
But she admitted the challenge of China’s best will be easier to focus on than the clash with O’Brien.
“It was such a tough match against Katie – we are best friends and you try and be professional but it can be difficult to focus,” added South.
“We’ve grown up together and played at the same age group together since we were kids and now we train at Roehampton together.
“We’re good friends – but definitely not on the court and I’m really pleased that I got through.
“This tournament has gone well for me in the past and the grass suits my game so hopefully I can have a good week.”