The second instalment of ‘Coaches' Corner,’ a new blog from the Wimbledon Junior Tennis Initiative, the trail-blazing community tennis programme run by the AELTC, focuses on 13-year-old WJTI player Gemma Southwick’s experience on competing in her first international tournament.
It was an early start for me and my dad on Sunday 23 February. We were on the first flight out of Gatwick to Stockholm and neither of us had ever been to Sweden before let alone played in a Tennis Europe event. I had been fortunate to receive a wild card to play in the Kungens Kanne & Drottiningens Pris at Kungl Tennis Club through AELTC Head Coach Dan Bloxham and the WJTI. Although I was nervous the event was definitely one of my goals and excitement soon took over.
My smile grew even wider when a limo arrived at the hotel to take me to sign in and practice at the tennis club. The tournament referees and club officials at Kungl were so welcoming and showed me around after my practice with Dan. Next up, I joined the opening ceremony with the other players and walked behind the Union Jack flag representing Great Britain. It was great to be a part of the ceremony and amazing to see how many different nationalities were represented. It was early to bed for me that night to get ready for my first match.
The ride to the club the following morning was slightly less exclusive. Dad, Dan and I joined the other players and their coaches on the tournament coach. Still, it gave me the chance to meet a few more of the others playing in the event. I was the first match on Court 2 against a highly ranked girl from Finland, Nicola Ussher. It was the first time in ages that I had felt really nervous going into a match and I shook for the first few games before settling down to focus. I took the first set quickly (6-2), but Nicola raised her game in the second and I eventually won it 7-5. I couldn’t believe I had won my first Tennis Europe match. It was lucky that Dan didn’t tell me it was being streamed live on the internet, and at Wimbledon, plus the WJTI had tweeted the link!
Later that day I teamed up with Jacqueline Nylander Altelius from Sweden for some doubles. Jacqueline was great and we beat our opponents in the champs tie-break. Two wins in a day followed by the players’ party that evening- it doesn’t get much better!
The next day I found myself playing singles against the seventh seed from Russia, the very tall Daria Solovyeva. I raised my game from the previous day, but Daria was stronger and more experienced at this level than me. It was still a great experience playing against someone like that and knowing I can compete with them - I learned a lot from it. Jacqueline and I had a tough doubles too, against the fourth seeds. We played well but made a few too many errors against a regular pairing. Still, it was great playing doubles with someone I didn't know and then got to know and made a new friend.
My Swedish adventure was not quite complete. There was just time for some sightseeing and shopping with my Dad before flying home.
I was incredibly proud to be given the opportunity to compete in a Tennis Europe event and to see the next level up. My victories have given me the confidence to believe in my tennis ability and my losses drive me to train harder each day. The event was managed so well and the atmosphere was welcoming and inspiring. I know that I want to compete at this level on a regular basis. Going out there and knowing I can compete with the top girls has made me want everything so much more.
A big thank you to the All England Club and to my coaching team at the WJTI for the experience, and to my family and coaches for all the support. I hope I have made you all proud.
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