THIRTEEN-year-old Matthew Smith - often dubbed as the next Tim Henman - has become the first British player to win the World Under-14 title.

The talented Heswall youngster - Britain's No 1 tennis player at under-14 level - gained the honour by winning the World 14 and Under Championships at Tarbes in France last weekend.

Matthew, who has emerged as one of the country's leading young tennis players from the Rover Junior Tennis Initiative, became world champion just days after giving a massive 'thumbs up' to tennis facilities on Wirral . . .

He has turned down a full-time place at Bisham Abbey Tennis School of Excellence so that he can continue his coaching at Wirral Tennis and Sports Centre, Bidston.

Matthew, who just 10 days ago carried off his first international title at Telford's Teen Tennis, says he turned down the place because tennis facilities on Wirral are now so good - and because the programme with his coach, local man Philip Leighton, has been so successful.

Matthew trains with Philip more than 12 hours a week on court at Wirral Tennis and Sports Centre, which is run by Wirral Borough Council, and also receives great support from Britain's Under-14 boys' captain Nick Lawrence, who also lives on Wirral.

Unseeded at Tarbes, Matthew survived the first four rounds without dropping a single set. In the semi-finals, he recovered from the loss of the first set to defeat Sweden's Rabin Soderling 3-6, 6-3, 7-5 before going on to upset top seed Mario Ancic, of Croatia, 6-1, 6-3 in the final.

Matthew is supported by The Rover JTI, the Lawn Tennis Association's coaching and training scheme formed in 1990 and involving 150 of the country's top junior players, who receive specialised coaching, training and competitive opportunities. The Rover JTI also includes the Rover National Junior Club League, a nationwide club competition for players aged 15 and under, involving 4,000 juniors from 800 clubs.

Mark Cox, the former British No 1, who is Director of the Rover JTI: "This is a very significant result, both for Matthew and also for the Rover scheme in general. It proves that at this age group we have made terrific strides forwards and have produced players that can compete with the very best in the world."

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