In 2016, Katie Swan became the youngest British player to ever compete in the now Billie Jean King Cup, aged just 16. This week, the 22-year-old has joined up with the squad once more as the team led by Anne Keothavong prepare to take on Mexico in a play-off.
As Great Britain prepares for this tie behind closed doors in Roehampton, Swan tells GiveMeSport Women about the memories of her historic debut, the atmosphere inside camp right now and why this tournament feels especially different to previous years.
Having been on the senior tour since 2015, Swan recalls how it all began for her as a junior. Like many elite athletes, her talent was first identified at a young age, when on holiday in Portugal as a seven-year-old.
While on this trip, she took some lessons, where her Portuguese teacher immediately identified an innate ability and urged Swan’s family to continue paying for her coaching.
“The first time I ever played, I loved it and was super focused,” she reminisces. “The coach there in Portugal told me I had really good hand-eye coordination naturally and he was really surprised with how into it I was straight away so he called my parents to get me lessons.”
This holiday fun quickly progressed into further training, further improvement and an ambition to one day turn professional. In 2015, Swan reached the Junior Australian Open final, shortly before her 16th birthday.
Despite losing to Tereza Mihalikova in straight sets, it was at this point that the teenager truly believed she could make it at the top level, as that once distant dream became an increasingly achievable reality.
“Australia, when I made the final, was a really big milestone for me, just to know that I could compete with the best juniors in the world. Then soon after, I won my first professional tournament, so I think around that time was where I really believed I could go somewhere with tennis.”
It was only a year later that Swan created history. Judy Murray, captain of the Great Britain Fed Cup team at the time, had identified the youngster’s skill from a young age and had seen her as a key part of her plans moving forward.
This led to a first call up in 2016, as Britain took on South Africa in a Group One fixture. At just 16 years and 316 days old, Swan became the youngest ever player to represent the side –– some 270 days younger than the now captain, Anne Keothavong.
Casting her mind back to when she found out the news, Swan reveals she was in Eilat, Egypt at the time, with fellow British player, Freya Christie. There were conflicting emotions of pure elation combined with the inevitable worries of competing for the first time. Ultimately though, it’s a moment she remembers fondly.
When they asked me to play I was so excited and so honoured to be picked [for Britain]. It was a combination of nerves and excitement but it was so much fun and I’ll never forget the experience. I just loved it.
This year’s tie against Mexico will feel like no other as COVID-19 restrictions have changed the complexion of the entire competition. Swan says conditions do feel particularly strange despite being used to playing with no crowd, having competed on the ITF circuit with next to no fans in attendance.
Nonetheless, the 22-year-old exemplifies that the squad is persevering and that team spirit remains high as always.
“It will be strange without crowds but we’ll be loud anyway. I say this every time, but it’s a really good atmosphere and all the girls get along.”
While Swan will be cheering her teammates on from the sideline this week, she is optimistic about her future going forwards. Having had the euphoria of winning a match at Wimbledon in 2018, she is hoping for plenty more opportunities to showcase herself on the biggest stage.
Her victory in 2018 was undoubtedly memorable. However, Swan doesn’t want to consider this her defining moment. Indeed, she is desperate to build on this success and continue rising through the ranks.
“When I won my first-round game [at Wimbledon] it was definitely a big milestone for me, but I don’t want to see it as my [main] achievement. I hope I can play there many more times across the rest of my career.”
If the highly-rated Brit keeps on this current path, then there is every chance she’ll be a consistent competitor in major tournaments. As one of four members from the current British squad to be supported by the LTA Pro Scholarship programme, Swan is benefitting from world-class coaching, medical and financial support, with the belief that she can reach the top 100 within the next five years.
Fans can watch Swan and the rest of the British team live this week, with the LTA showing all matches on their website, Youtube and their TikTok channel –– starting from 2pm today.
The hope is that this widespread coverage will inspire the next generation of Billie Jean King Cup players to pick up a racquet and play tennis, no matter their age, background or ability.
Swan’s story also serves as an example to those first starting out in the game. You may be unfamiliar and unconfident with the sport initially, but deep inside there may be a natural ability lurking –– you just have to find out.News Now - Sport News