For British tennis star Katie Swan, Wimbledon was supposed to be the highlight of her season. But with the coronavirus pandemic continuing to force much of the world to shut down, The All England Club made the tough decision to cancel this year’s Championship, the first time since the Second World War.
With much of the world stuck in lockdown and under strict government advice, the professional tennis tour won’t be returning until mid-July at the very earliest, ruling out the grass-court season entirely. But for Swan, who beat then world No. 36 Irina-Camelia Begu as a wildcard in 2018 to reach the second round, the priority should be staying at home and following the government guidelines. In an exclusive interview with GiveMeSport Women’s Callum Room, Swan said,
“It’s such a shame, but the most important thing right now is everyone’s health and safety, no one could have expected that this situation could have happened.”
“My favourite tournament of the year is Wimbledon, but the most important thing right now is following the government guidelines, staying safe and looking after those who need it the most.”
The 21-year-old has been playing her part in her local area, helping to coordinate relief packages with her mother Nicki and the charity Big Brothers Big Sisters in their hometown of Wichita, Kansas. The pair are creating care packages from their garage to help vulnerable families below the poverty line amidst the pandemic.
“She (Nicki) has collected donations whether that is in the form of groceries or actual money to go towards the groceries and they’re helping her create the packages to go out,” explained Swan.
“We have a lot of families who are making homemade meals to go with the groceries and my mum actually recently partnered with ICT Food Rescue which is basically where food that doesn’t get used during takeouts is donated to my mum’s organisation. It’s really nice and the families are getting groceries and actual meals. We’ve helped 135 different families which is amazing.”
Swan moved to the United States in 2013, due to her father Richard’s work in the fossil-fuel industry. However, the youngster still spends most of her time training in London at the LTA National Tennis Centre with her two coaches. Her intense training schedule means she trains between two and three hours in the morning before either a strength and conditioning or cardio session in the afternoon.
It was on holiday in Portugal, as a seven-year-old, when Swan first realised that she was immensely talented with a tennis racket. After being enrolled on a tennis course, the coach there approached Swan’s parents, telling them that he believed she could turn professional due to her incredible hand-eye coordination.
After two years as a junior, the Bristol-born youngster won her first international tournament in 2009 and she has gone from strength to strength ever since. In 2015, Swan recorded her first victory on the senior circuit but initially, the junior grand slam finalist struggled to bridge the gap as a professional.
“I remember my first trip away, I had just come back from Australia where I had made the final of the Australian Open Juniors and went to Egypt to Sharm El Sheik to play Super 10k at the time and it was such a big difference going from such a high in the grand slams to play 10k in Sharm,” explained Swan.
“It was really tough because when you get to the pro tour everyone is playing for their living, so the players are tougher, everyone wants it more. When you go to these women’s tournaments, you’re playing for your life pretty much.
“I definitely found the transition difficult because of how much tougher the players were mentally, and I think I just had to get used to the fact that it feels lonelier on the professional tour. It was definitely a change, but you get used to it and I’m really enjoying it.”
While undoubtedly the on-court battle is a test of a player’s physical strength and skill, the mental side of the sport is often what can be the difference between victory and defeat. The demands of the tour mean tennis players are constantly travelling, often spending months away from home at a time. Then there is the stress of earnings which are coupled exclusively to performance on the court. Whilst it might come as a shock that tennis players suffer mentally it’s not surprising when you think about it.
Playing on the professional circuit, Swan has struggled in the past with her mental health, but she has sought professional help and now is now enjoying her tennis more than ever.
“Yeah, I’m really enjoying it, obviously right now it’s a strange time for tennis but I love it,” she explained.
“I’ve been working with a psychologist regularly; we stay in contact a lot and that’s really helped me. There’s a lot of support within the LTA, they have their own psychologist and I’m also trying to do more stuff that I enjoy when I’m travelling, like spending time sight-seeing.
“I try to stay in regular contact with home and I get on really well with my team, my coaches, my fitness coaches so it’s really nice to have them while I’m travelling as well.”
Swan was signed to fellow Brit, Andy Murray’s tennis management agency 77 Sports Management in 2018 after showing real promise on the women’s tour. Since, the three-time grand slam winner has acted as a pillar of support for Swan, understanding the challenges of the professional tour all too well.
“He [Murray] has been really nice, pretty much whenever I need anything, or I just want advice he’s there. It can be tournament schedule, or if I’m stressed about something, he’s really nice to be able to speak to and he’s really easy going so I feel really comfortable to be able to speak to him.”
Swan became the youngest player to play in the Fed Cup when she was just 16 years old, replacing Johanna Konta who pulled out with a stomach problem. Now five years on, the 21-year-old has aspirations to win grand slams and hopefully represent Team GB at the Tokyo Olympics when they are rearranged next year.
“My goal has always been to win grand slams; I think that’s the highest achievement you get in tennis. I’d also love to play in the Olympics, that’s been a dream of mine and hopefully, I get the opportunity to at least try to get there when tournaments start back up.
“It’s a long process, but I am just doing my best every day to improve, and get fitter, stronger. I’m keeping a positive attitude through everything that everyone is going through at the moment.”
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