Interview: Anne Keothavong

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Anne Keothavong. Photo: Jamesboyes

Anne Keothavong is feeling disappointed. She’s just been defeated at the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami and it is clear that the novelty of touring balmy climates no longer holds the same appeal for the UK’s no.2 female tennis player.

“I had my first international trip when I was 11,” she sighs. “I guess I’ve grown up knowing nothing better.”

Anne is currently ranked 107 in the world, having just come back from a six month recovery period after a serious knee injury sustained during the 2009/10 season.

It was in Hackney, her childhood home, that she discovered her talent for tennis. She perfected her swing on run-down courts at Clissold Park and Hackney Downs before turning professional in 2001.

“The courts weren’t very good but at that age you don’t really notice,” she says.

Anne went to Kingsland Secondary School on Shackwell Lane and left shortly before it was knocked down in 2003 and rebuilt as Petchey Academy. The school had just a 20 per cent GCSE pass rate (A*- G) in 2002 and was put on special measures status by inspectors who said it failed to supply an acceptable standard of education.

“The teaching was terrible at school,” she remembers. “Looking back, I had very few teachers who did a good job.

“I haven’t been inside Petchey Academy, but from the outside it certainly looks a lot different from Kingsland, that’s for sure.”

Anne somewhat bucked the trend at Kingsland – achieving seven GCSEs and an A-level in Maths – and thanks her parents for the the learning her school didn’t provide.

“I was fortunate; I had parents who were willing to give me opportunities,” she says. “That’s really the big difference. You can grow up wherever – whether it’s the inner-city or in the country – but if you haven’t got anyone giving you guidance you can end up being a lost cause.

“I did a lot of travelling to play in junior events so the fact that I had time off school probably benefited me and kept me out of trouble.”

Anne no longer lives in Hackney, but says that she still comes to visit friends: “I think it’s changed a lot and certain areas are quite trendy. Dalston has become the place to be. I can’t bear it when I go through there now – there’s a lot of pretentious wannabes!”

Asked if growing up in the inner-city separates her from other professionals on the circuit, she says: “As a Londoner I guess it’s been different but I don’t feel it’s restricted me in any way.

“Players come from all sorts of different backgrounds and it doesn’t matter how privileged you are or not – you’ve got to have the desire to want to do better for yourself.”

Anne is hopeful of representing Great Britiain in the London Games in 2012, although she needs to improve her world ranking in order to qualify. Whether she manages this or not, she belives the Games will help to attract a new generation of tennis lovers in the borough.

“With the Olympics coming up that will encourage people to get out there and exercise a bit more,” she says. “Tennis gets you running, uses all your muscles, and it’s a very social game.

“One of my former PE teachers now coaches at Clissold Park and she’s trying to get lots of kids involved. The courts have improved and hopefully they will be getting floodlights and a clubhouse. That will give people in the area more opportunity to play the game.”