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British No.2 Mel South
Mel South hit the headlines in late June when she beat world No.14 Francesca Schiavone in the first round at Wimbledon. She has since climbed over 120 places to No.177 on the WTA world rankings, establishing herself as the new British No.2. Since Wimbledon, the Surrey 20-year-old has been on the road with coach Lucie Ahl, stopping in Spain, China – where she won her first $25,000 singles title – and the US in search of world ranking points.

“Beating Schiavone at Wimbledon changed my schedule immediately because it meant I could get into the US Open qualifying in August. At Wimbledon I was really just going out there to enjoy the experience because I was playing someone in the top 15 in the world. I wasn’t really expecting anything from myself going into the match, but I was pleased with the way I closed it out. It would have been easy to get tight towards the end but I managed to finish it off and gained a huge amount of confidence from that win which I took into my next few events.

Just by beating Schiavone my world ranking went from around 300 to 230. And by doing well in China a few weeks after I went up to around the 175 mark so the whole period has given me a big stepping stone to push on from. My aim is to make the top 100 and then go higher.

At the end of July I flew to China with Lucie to play three $25,000 events so I was out there for nearly a month. It was my first trip to China and I have to admit it wasn’t the nicest place I’ve ever been to. To be honest, it was the first trip I’ve been on where after two or three days I thought, ‘I don’t want to be here,’ but once I started winning matches the surroundings didn’t bother me too much.

The first venue in Chengdu was interesting. The toilets were the hole-in-the-ground variety, but I suppose they’re good for your thigh muscles.

Mel South

It was so hot and humid in the first week – hardly bearable at first. It wasn’t a case of getting there and being able to acclimatise for three days. We trained and then hit as soon as we landed. The hotels were okay – they varied from week to week – but you get used to just seeing hotel rooms and tennis courts so it’s no big deal. Another two British players were out there too – Katie O’Brien and Karen Paterson – and I shared a room with Karen which is always good fun. We managed to keep ourselves amused, got up to a bit of mischief and had lots of laughs. Having said that, we try to practice with other nationalities too so we’re not just hanging around in our little group.

The first venue in Chengdu was interesting. The toilets were the hole-in-the-ground variety, but I suppose they’re good for your thigh muscles! That was the first club I’d ever been to where there wasn’t the option of at least one Western toilet, but the second week wasn’t too bad – that had one normal loo! Katie said she saw a rat in the toilet in the first week and we saw a few when we were out running too. We all had sore stomachs from trying hard not to go to the toilet too often!

The facilities aside, it was great to get my first $25,000 title at the second venue, Chongging, which again was good for my confidence. I really feel that title was the direct result of all the hard work that I’ve put in over the past year. I beat a Japanese and four Chinese girls in that tournament. The Chinese girls are amazing. They all play exactly the same way, they run all day long. You have the longest rallies against them and have to really earn every point. With my type of game, I had the power to hurt them but I had to make sure I didn’t get too impatient. Some of the Chinese unranked wild cards were as good as the ones with higher rankings. Because there are so many of them coming up they’re all out there fighting to be noticed and trying to do well.

After the China trip I had a day-and-a-half off and then I was back doing fitness work and hitting at Queen’s before flying to New York to play a $50,000 event in the Bronx and the US Open qualies. All my friends kept asking me to buy them things from New York when they found out I was going – Abercrombie & Fitch and Levis stuff – but it wasn’t quite like that playing in the Bronx! The tennis venue was okay, although there was only one shower, which was cold! It was kind of like playing in a park, with one small changing room. I played a decent first match but lost in the second round of qualifying.

I hadn’t been to New York before and I only had two half-days off, one of which I spent sleeping, so not too much time for sightseeing. We were staying near the Empire State Building, so I saw that from a distance. I did find time to go to Abercrombie & Fitch though – but only to spend some money on myself! I’d originally planned to spend a couple of days in New York after I’d finished playing, but once you lose you usually just want to get out of there so I went home immediately after I lost in the Open qualies so I could spend some time off with friends and family at home.

Two months earlier I never dreamt I’d be playing the qualifying at the US Open so I just tried to enjoy it but at the same time continuing to work hard on the practice court. I lost to Kyra Nagy from Hungary in straight sets in the first round. It was pretty windy when I went on and didn’t play a very good match. She was just better on the day.

I had three days off when I got back last week and now I have a three-week training block which means no tournaments during that time – my main aim is to improve my fitness. The first week I’ll just be in the gym and a bit in the pool. The second week will be alternating between one and two on-court sessions a day – but still with lots of fitness work – and in the third week I’ll be playing two sessions a day, introducing more tennis.

After that I’ll play some more $25,000 events in the UK and maybe one in Spain. My goal after the next five or six tournaments is to break into the top 150 in the world. I need to sit down and go through my long-term goals again because I’d aimed to be inside the top 200 by the end of this year which I’ve already achieved. That’s obviously happened a lot sooner than I expected. If it keeps going well I want to keep changing my goals and pushing myself harder and harder.”

(This diary is on the LTA website on 30th August 2006)

Mel xx

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