MELANIE SOUTH took her first, tentative steps as a tennis player at the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Club that lies a stone’s throw away from the All England Club. During coaching sessions as a ten-year-old she could hear the crowds erupt into applause and began to fantasise about one day playing inside the hallowed walls. Yesterday, her dream became a reality. She caused the biggest upset in the women’s draw so far by defeating Francesca Schiavone, the No 11 seed, to become the first British woman to advance to the second round.
It was the most significant British women’s victory at Wimbledon since 1998, when Sam Smith beat Conchita Martínez. “I can’t believe it,” South, 20, whose 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 triumph was watched by Martina Navratilova, said. “It’s my best win ever and I’m really looking forward to the second round. I had nothing to lose and just went out there and enjoyed it.”
An early inspiration for South was Monica Seles, who practised at the club of the British No 6 during her heyday. “I remember staring at her practising,” South said. “She had been through so many hard times and still managed to get out there, work hard and go for it.”
There have been hard times, too, for South. Her parents have remortgaged their house three times to fund her career, which her mother, Sheila, estimates to cost about £50,000 a year. Financial assistance has been provided by the LTA but South is prepared for the hard slog to continue until she reaches her target of the top 100 in the world. “I’m back on to the Challenger circuit as soon as this is over but I want to be in the top 200 by the end of the year and then maybe another year (until the top 100).”
South was joined in the second round by Sarah Borwell, a 26-year-old from Middlesbrough. She beat Marta Domachowska, of Poland, 6-3, 6-7, 6-4. “We had a lot of northerners around the court today, which was nice,” Borwell said. “I had a word at the beginning of the third set, though, and told them to calm down a bit.”