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'I just want to be a tennis player . . . I just love winning'

THERE was indecision after 10 years of spectacular progress.

Whisper it, but Maia Lumsden's victory in the world's most prestigious junior tournament has propelled Scotland's next 'big thing' to a new level
Whisper it, but Maia Lumsden's victory in the world's most prestigious junior tournament has propelled Scotland's next 'big thing' to a new level

The coach thought about flying to Miami, if only for a day. The player, separated from her mentor by the Atlantic, fluffed two match points with uncharacteristically feeble drop shots. Indecision ruled, but eventually Maia Lumsden reigned. The Glasgow girl gathered her composure and secured the under-14 girls' singles Junior Orange Bowl title in Florida after a 6-3, 7-5 victory over Gabriella Taylor of England in an all-British final in what is widely regarded as the sport's junior world championships.

The coach had come to his decision, too. Toby Smith stayed at home. "I phoned Judy Murray who was in Florida doing a training camp and I asked her what she thought about me flying in for the final. We came to the conclusion that it just might put Maia off her game so I learned about the win by text,'' says the coach with the broadest of grins.

Maia, 15 tomorrow, has come a long way with the help of Smith. They plan to go even further, with Wimbledon 2013 a credible staging post.

"It is all about improving her ITF ranking and competing in junior grand slams now,'' says Smith. It seems just a heartbeat since he was watching Maia take her first steps in tennis at the David Lloyd centre in Anniesland, Glasgow. Now she practises at Stirling University where Smith and his assistant, Mark Walker, are running an elite programme that promises to send out graduates in the footsteps of Andy Murray, who once trained at the facility.

"They all have Andy as their favourite player,'' says Smith. 'The best young players appreciate his style and his commitment. The way he plays is all about problem-solving.''

Maia, with her fluid strokes and intelligent gameplans, fits that mould too but, crucially, she has the commitment.

Every morning she and her brother Ewen, who is an under-12 champion, and sister Eve, who is also showing promise, travel from Glasgow to attend Beaconhurst School, adjacent to the university. Smith ferries them home after a day of lessons with tennis a part of the curriculum.

"I just want to be a tennis player,'' says Maia simplywhen asked what she has sacrificed over the years. "I just love winning.''

She has formed a habit, winning the biggest tournament at under-12s and now at under-14. She is now preparing to head to Abu Dhabi to play in tournaments in a bid to improve her ITF ranking. The junior competition at Wimbledon lies on the horizon.

"That is what it is about now,'' she says after a training session at Stirling where she is immensely impressive playing against older boys. "I want to play in the grand slams at this level but most of all I want to make a life out of this.''

Her short existence has been heavily marked by tennis but she gives a laugh when asked if she misses anything on offer to her teenage classmates. "This is all I want to do,'' she says, surprised the subject has been raised again. Her immediate future also includes sitting five standard grades before, hopefully, heading for SW19.

She is already undergoing fitness training and taking advice on diet from the sportscotland experts on site at Stirling. Tests have shown that her lithe frame may grow to 5ft 10in but she exhibits the traits of an intelligent player rather than a powerful one.

She joins as winners of the junior orange bowl Chris Evert (1967), Mary Jo Fernandez (1983) and more recently Shahar Peer (2001), Sorana Cristea (2003) and Tamira Paszek (2004). Incidentally, a certain Andy Murray won the under-12 event at the tournament in 1999. Maia, of course, is a long way from joining her compatriot on the professional tour, and any emulation of the Dunblane player's exploits can only be viewed with a telescope from her present vantage point.

But both Maia and her coaches do not shy away from the purpose of all the sessions, all the chats, all the drives back to Glasgow from Bridge of Allan.

"We are unashamedly trying to produce top-class tennis players,'' says Smith of a culture in which players such as Anna Brogan and Ali Collins are making substantial progress.

"We have had great support from Tennis Scotland and the LTA and it is invaluable having Judy Murray as a coach. You can tell a kid a million times to do something but when Judy tells them it's strange how they immediately do it,'' he says. "One of the most important factors is that Judy always told us and the players that they would only be sent to tournaments to compete, not just for the trip. They have to know that they are heading to tournaments to go deep in the draw, to win.''

Quietly and impressively, Maia has done just that but she retains a genuinely humble demeanour. She shyly deflects praise but is aware of the size of her achievements and how they were gained.

"I do not focus on winning tournaments when I enter them. I just want to win the match I am playing but in Florida I slowly became more and more confident that I could do it. I was always determined.''

Smith welcomed the returning heroine with words designed to encourage her to believe that beating the world's best may constitute a career rather than a wonderful week in Miami.

No outlandish predictions are being made. "The ethos here is that we work for everything,'' says Smith. "So first it is Abu Dhabi and then, hopefully, it is junior grand slams, hopefully Wimbledon.''

Maia contents herself with the observation that she can still beat her younger brother. Walker, Smith's assistant, observes out of earshot as Maia batters double-handed backhands down the line: "She doesn't realise how good she is.''

Her steely gaze suggests she might just be coming to that realisation. It is certainly wonderful and surely forgivable to hope the wider world might one day appreciate it too.

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