Alongside the joys of being touted as the next big thing in British women’s tennis, there are pressures.
This week, Katie Swan – just 16 and the fifth-ranked girl in the world – experienced both. A happy journey to the quarter-finals that saw an expectant crowd screaming her support on No3 Court. And then, the anguish of crashing out in straight sets without giving the desired account of herself.
The right-hander, who finished runner-up in the junior Australian Open in January and won a Wimbledon women’s qualifier last month, stepped into her big match against the Slovakian, Viktoria Kuzmova, ranked 493, with a reputation as a player with a big serve and heavy forehand. But on the brink of her biggest achievement so far, she found herself unable to fully deploy either.
An injury saw her underhitting drives and serves and clutching her abdomen. She sought salvation in a nine-minute medical timeout, but still could not retrieve the situation.
Seeing her discomfort, Kuzmova grew in confidence and authority. Tennis can be cruel. The first set ended 7-6 after a tie-break the Slovakian won 7-2. The next she took 6-0.
There was no indication at the outset that such a denouement was likely. Swan dropped her opening serve, but also did so in the previous round when she beat the American, Sofia Kenin. Kuzmova seemed the more aggressive. She failed to take any of four break points in the third game. But thereafter they settled into a pattern, with Swan stronger on serve and Kuzmova probing the Briton’s backhand. They matched each other until the tiebreak when Swan’s challenge fell away.
She came out briskly, keen to impose herself and grabbed a break point in Kuzmova’s first service game but could not take it. The lapse was costly as Swan lost her own serve soon after. The Slovakian cemented the break to go 3-0 up, at which point Swan left for medical assistance.
A supportive roar greeted her return to Court Three but she was a pale shadow at the resumption and the set – peppered with her errors and painful grimaces – was gone in 18 minutes. She left a sad figure. But she will have better days.
Like Andy Murray and Heather Watson before her, Swan – from Bristol – has ventured abroad to plot this crucial stage in her development. She moved to Wichita, Kansas, last year where her father works and she trains at the local state university.
But then her potential was also spotted abroad. Aged seven and on a family holiday, she took tennis lessons as a diversion. The coach was a Portuguese former professional.
“He told us: ‘She’s going to be a professional tennis player,’” recalled her mother, Nicki, recently, a pronouncement the family found “hilarious”.
Still the coach was unrepentant, and finally the family took him at his word. “We gave her proper lessons,” her mother recalled. “It went from there.”
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