Surrey’s Melanie South struck the final balls of the domestic women’s clay court season this month in Edinburgh. She reached the $10,000 singles final, then teamed up with Cardiff’s Rebecca Llewellyn to win the doubles event but despite her success it was with relief that she headed home.
Having made an upbeat end to this segment of the season the New Malden teenager, who celebrated her 19th birthday a week ago, is very happy to put the game’s slowest surface behind her for another year.
Now she can fully focus on the grass court events and her favourite five weeks of the year, starting on her own doorstep with The Surbiton Trophy this month (Saturday 28 May – Sunday 5 June).
“I’m glad the clay is over because I like the faster surfaces,” said South. “ I have an attacking game so I can use the surface to put the pressure on my opponent. Most of the British players look to do well at Surbiton, Birmingham and Eastbourne. And it’s nice to be able to play tournaments and stay at home.”
South was awarded one of four main draw wild cards in last year’s Surbiton Trophy but a damp court, caused by the only rain shower of the tournament, contributed to her first round demise against the higher ranked American Kristen Schlukebir. Three weeks later she found more success at junior Wimbledon.
“The Surbiton courts are just five minutes from home. They’re kept in really good condition and hopefully this year the court will be drier and faster,” she said.
“I played junior Wimbledon last year and it was a great experience. It’s a great atmosphere and the crowds give you a lot of support, whereas at most of the tournaments I play in there is no one watching. I had a tough first round in singles but I reached the quarter finals of the doubles.”
Sport runs in the South family. Her father was a professional football player (Brentford & Fulham), his father was a professional boxer. A year ago, Melanie continued the family trend by completing her school education (she is studying Spanish GCSE by correspondence) and taking the plunge to go full time, and so far it hasn’t been a smooth ride. After Wimbledon she injured her knee and missed the following five months.
“Tennis has always been my No.1 priority, I’ve always wanted to play full time and I’ve got a lot of support from my family and the LTA. It’s certainly not as glamorous as everyone makes out and it was a tough time being injured for five months. I really missed it but I’m back on track and it’s really nice to be back. I started in January and it takes a few months to get back to competing and playing matches again.”
South bounced back by beating former British No.1, Anne Keothavong in the final of the Bath $10,000 event then captured three consecutive doubles titles before arriving in Edinburgh last week.
There is little doubt she is back to her best form but she accepts she may need a wild card to play at Surbiton, a higher status $25,000 event, and she knows there is still a very a very long way to go to achieve her ambitions.
“Surbiton is such a strong tournament and I’d probably need a wild card into qualifying event or main draw. You never know what you will be given and you have to take any opportunities you get.
“Long term I’d like to get into the top 100, then build on that and play in the Grand Slams. I’d like to get into them on my own merit and I know it will take a lot of hard work.”