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Jo Durie: From the clay to the commentary box

Jo Carter January 20, 2011
Jo Durie won two mixed doubles titles with Jeremy Bates © Getty Images
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Andy Murray carries the weight of the nation on his shoulders in Melbourne as he bids to end Britain's 75-year wait for grand slam glory. Although Britain haven't had a singles champion at the Australian Open since Virginia Wade in 1972, 20 years ago, there have been British flags flying high in Melbourne more recently.

In January 1991, the unseeded British pairing of Jo Durie and Jeremy Bates beat American duo Robin White and Scott Davis 2-6 6-4 6-4 to claim the Australian Open mixed doubles title - three-and-a-half years after lifting the trophy at Wimbledon. As the first major of the year begins to hot up, we take a look back at the career of the last British woman to reach a grand slam semi-final.

After turning professional at the age of 17, Durie stamped her mark on the women's tour at the 1983 French Open. Having never previously made it past the second round at Roland Garros, Durie stormed to the semi-finals, dispatching three seeded players on the way. After seeing off Pam Shriver and Tracy Austin to reach her first grand slam semi-final, the unseeded Durie eventually fell to Mima Jausovec in three sets.

"That result at the French was a big break for me," Durie told ESPN. "I had been playing quite well up until that point but nobody really expected me to do well on clay - it was my worst surface. I had had some success on the clay but I was a set and a break up in the semi-final against Jausovec and maybe the enormity of the occasion got to me."

Durie's performance at Roland Garros saw her fly up the rankings, and she proved that it was no fluke with a semi-final appearance at the US Open later that year, where she lost an entertaining encounter 6-4 6-4 to second seed Chris Evert.

"It was my first time on Center Court," Durie recalls. "After I won my quarter-final match against Ivanna Madruga-Osses on the Grand Slam court and I went onto the court to practice and Alan [Jones, Durie's coach] said, 'don't pretend you are not here - there are going to be a hell of a lot of people out there'.

"Going onto Center Court you have to go down a long tunnel and you come out into the bright, blinding sunshine. It was jam-packed with people wanting Chris Evert to win, but the worst thing for me was I didn't know where my coach Alan [Jones] was sitting.

If I had been like Martina Navratilova and my body had let me I would have carried on playing a lot longer.

"I was frantically trying to search the crowds for him to have something to focus on and it took me the whole of the warm-up to find him. That really helped me relax and after that I loved every minute of the match. I lost in two quite close sets and I just wanted to play another set I was enjoying myself so much."

While she never managed to emulate three-time grand slam winner Virginia Wade, Durie tasted success at Wimbledon in 1987, partnering Bates to the mixed doubles title.

"I think that was the most nervous I have ever been on court," Durie reflects. "On match point Jeremy was serving to Darren Cahill and I knew he was going to hit the ball straight at me so I just told myself to get the racket on it.

"Sure enough he hit it at me and somehow I managed to get the racket on it and it squirted over the net. It was a terrible volley but it was enough and it was the most incredible feeling to win in front of a British crowd at Wimbledon."

After adding the Australian Open doubles title to her trophy cabinet, as well as two singles titles from Mahwah and Sydney, Durie hung up her racket in 1995 after her final bow at Wimbledon.

"By that time my body couldn't go on much longer," Durie admits. "I had been having problems with my knees since about '91 but I loved my tennis so much I kept going when I should have probably called it a day.

"I had a wildcard for Wimbledon in 1995 and I was determined to win a match - I didn't care who I played. I wanted to win so badly - I beat Alexia Dechaume-Balleret in the first round and met Jana Novotna in the second round.

"I asked to play on the old Court One and it meant I could go over to Alan after the match and give him a hug. The press said it was disgraceful that I wasn't playing on Centre but it was my decision and it was the way I wanted to bow out with all my friends and family there.

Jo Durie coached Elena Baltacha until 2008 © Getty Images
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"The decision to retire was quite an easy one for me because by that stage my knees were so badly gone. If I had been like Martina Navratilova and my body had let me I would have carried on playing a lot longer.

"I had managed to get back into the top 30 which was one of my main goals but then I played Jennifer Capriati in the fourth round of the US Open in 1991 and she thrashed me. It was probably that moment I started thinking about retiring when a 14-year-old hit the ball that hard."

Durie turned her focus to coaching, and oversaw the early careers of both Elena Baltacha and Anne Keothavong as teenagers. She also began commentating for the BBC and has since worked at Eurosport.

"Elena Baltacha and Anne Keothavong both came to the French Connection academy when they were teenagers - Anne was 14 and Elena 15. They both did very well at the US Open juniors. Anne left us when she was 19 but she reached the semi-finals at Wimbledon juniors. It was really nice to see them both doing well and they came so far.

"I didn't miss training because it had become so painful for me. I filled the void pretty quickly as I went straight into coaching and it was great; I had to start learning all over again, and then when I went into TV I knew nothing about it so I had to start from the very beginning.

"Travelling with the tour for Eurosport helps me keep in touch with the tennis and what is going on. I watch practice sessions and talk to coaches and that helps me with my own coaching so the two go hand in hand," added Durie, who also coaches holiday makers at La Manga resort in Spain.

"It's just nice to see people enthusiastic about their tennis and want to learn and improve - for me that's the most important thing - I still love my tennis."

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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Jo Carter is an assistant editor of ESPN.co.uk