Tennis: Coach Mhairi commits to Commonwealth dream

EDINBURGH tennis coach Mhairi Brown is returning to competitive professional play on Monday with a place in Scotland's first-ever Commonwealth Games team very much her goal.

Tennis makes its debut in the programme for Delhi (4-10 October) and, in a further boost to Scottish hopes, Elena Baltacha, who finished 2009 in a career high 87 on the WTA's women's world rankings, has confirmed to the Evening News her intention to take part. For Brown that could be a chance to rekindle happy memories of partnering Baltacha in the doubles event when the Commonwealth Youth Games were inaugurated in Edinburgh in 2000.

First, though, comes the need to gather ranking points that would make her eligible and that means a trip along the M8 to the AEGON Pro-Series Futures tournament being held in Glasgow next week where she has been given a wild card entry. Edinburgh prospect Emma Devine is also playing on a wild card as he stakes her initial steps into the senior ranks.

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So far as Brown, 27, is concerned the early weeks of 2010 will be highly intense as she balances competition alongside work as Craiglockhart's Head of Junior Performance with coaching on behalf of Tennis Scotland, as well as organising freelance fitness training classes.

"It was only a fortnight before Christmas that (national coach) Elinore Lightbody mentioned to me that I might consider trying to qualify for Scotland's Commonwealth Games team, " said Brown. "The more I thought about the prospect the more the idea appealed having been part of the Youth Games in a team that included Elana."

Scottish No.1 Baltacha, currently competing in New Zealand, said today: "I know Mhairi very well. We used to compete against each other as juniors ... a very long time ago.

"I'm so looking forward to being part of such a special event as the Commonwealth Games. It will be a privilege to represent Scotland and hopefully I can do everyone proud. It would also be fantastic to play alongside Mhairi."

Brown, a former Arizona State University player who had entered the world rankings before crossing the Atlantic to further her tennis career, added: "I would have been gutted if I didn't give it my best shot to try to get to the Games. The more I considered the prospect the more I said to myself 'why not?'.

"I'm juggling my plans and my immediate schedule includes the Scottish Open at Scotstoun, Glasgow, later in January as well as a tournament in Wrexham."

Brown, along with the rest of Scotland's tennis community, is waiting to learn if the Commonwealth Games will see Andy Murray competing under the Saltire, but she recognises the pressure the world No.4 will face around that time.

"I hope Andy and (brother) Jamie play. But, from Andy's point of view, things have got to be sensible in terms of his professional schedule. The Beijing Olympics were a learning curve. He wanted to play and everyone wanted him to. It didn't work out."

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Murray found the proximity to the US Open and the start of the Masters series particularly demanding as he tried to fit the Olympics into his schedule but any likelihood of his availability for Scotland is certain to be a topic when tennis officials meet tomorrow to progress plans for the Delhi Games. Scotland have until 3 April to confirm the size of their team, which will include a maximum of three singles players in each event and two doubles teams.