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SURREY COMET - 18/05/2005

MELANIE HEADING FOR GREEN GRASS OF HOME

Surrey's Melanie South struck the final balls of the domestic women's clay court season last weekend 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 was very happy to put the game's slowest surface behind her for another year. Now she can 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, May 28 to Sunday, June 5).
"I'm glad the clay is over because I like the faster surfaces," said South, who celebrated her 19th birthday last week. "I have an attacking game, so I can use the surface to put the pressure on my opponents. Most Brits 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 wildcards 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, South tasted more success at junior Wimbledon.
"The Surbiton courts are five minutes from home," she said. "They're kept in really good condition and hopefully this year the court will be drier and faster, 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 - 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 footballer (with Brentford and Fulham) while his father was a professional boxer.
A year ago, South continued the family trend by completing her school education (she is studying Spanish GCSE by correspondence) and taking the plunge to go full-time. But it has not exactly been a smooth ride so far. After Wimbledon, South injured her knee and was out for five months.
"Tennis has always been my priority. I've always wanted to play full time and I've got a lot of support from my family and the LTA," she said. "It's certainly not as glamorous as everyone makes out and it was tough being injured for five months. I really missed it but I'm back on track and it's nice to be back. I started in January, but it takes a few months to get back to competing and playing matches again."
South bounced back by beating former British number one Anne Keothavong in the final at Bath event, then captured three consective doubles titles before arriving in Edinburgh last week.
There is little doubt she is back to her best form but accepts she may need a wild card to play at Surbiton - a higher status event - and knows there is still a long way to go to achievee her ambitions.
"Surbiton is such a strong tournament and I'd probably need a wildcard into qualifying event or main draw," she said. "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 slam events. I'd like to get into them on merit and I know it will take a lot of hard work."



by ROB EYTON-JONES



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