Holding court with tennis ace Annabel Croft

The former British number one discusses school life, what she’s learnt as a mother and the tennis stars she’ll be watching in 2018

What are your memories of sport at West Heath School

I have very strong memories of sport at school actually, as that was all I cared about as a child. I remember sitting in the maths classroom looking out the window at the hockey pitches and thinking I would much rather be out there running around than doing maths! All I wanted was for the bell to go. 

How did you juggle school life as a professional tennis player? 

My school life was very different because every single day I would train for tennis. 

I first started playing when I was nine years old and when I started at West Heath I had already won the nationals. I was a day girl in a boarding school, which was difficult, and then in the evenings I would go to London for training or train at home. 

How did the school support you? 

It was the headmistress, Ruth Rudd, who was unbelievably supportive of my tennis. That’s one of the reasons why I ended up at West Heath. Schoolwork became increasingly difficult as I was often travelling at the weekend for competitions, but she was always incredibly helpful. 

How did your experience at independent school shape what came next in your career? 

I am very grateful to the school for allowing me to pursue my dreams. The most important thing for any child is that they come out of school with confidence. It didn’t matter that I was useless at maths, as I actually felt good at something else. As a parent, what I have learnt bringing up three children, is that it’s important to encourage them to find something that makes them motivated to get out of bed and do something. If you look at the whole education system, there isn’t enough choice for everybody and that’s sad. How many children aren’t being given choices? I am very grateful I was given the chance to follow my dream. 

Your children also attended independent school, did you notice that school sport had changed? 

Yes! They all ended up at Wellington College and what I loved about it was their passion for sport. Everything about that school was really encouraging of sport and the arts. They had a really well-rounded education. Sport in my day was very much girls with their arms folded and hockey sticks under their armpits, saying “We don’t run”. However, having seen my kids go to a sporty school I saw that school sport has changed dramatically. Girls now want to be fit and have a completely different attitude. 

What were your career highs and lows? 

I have loved every minute of the ride and tennis has given me so much in my life. I am still as passionate about it today as I was at nine years of age. I have to pinch myself as the job I do now in the media has never felt like work. I always remember what a coach said on our tour, “Do something you love and you’ll never do a day’s work in your life.” I love that. 

You have played in all the grand slams – do you have a favourite? 

They are all so different. Wimbledon is so incredibly special to anyone that comes from Great Britain as it is one of the greatest tournaments in the world. All the grand slams have their own unique style. The French Open is incredibly chic, the USA Open is very loud and flash and the Australian Open is very laidback with lots of lovely sunshine. 

Do you have any advice for future sporting stars? 

I would say just go out there and enjoy the journey. You will always learn more from your defeats than your losses. It’s very easy to get negative but ultimately, it’s all part of the challenge. 

What are you looking forward to in the 2018 sporting calendar? 

In tennis terms, after what Roger Federer has achieved this year at the age of 36, we are all fascinated to see whether he can continue like that. Can he win another Wimbledon? It’s exciting to see what he can still do. Andy Murray will also be back on the scene and there are a whole host of youngsters coming through. I’m looking forward to seeing the young players at the heels of the big sports stars. 

For more details about Annabel’s Tennis Academies, home and abroad, visit annabelcrofttennis.com or call 0203 170 8393

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