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The African Serena Williams? The audacity of hope and Angela Okutoyi’s ambition to become the next big thing in Tennis

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NAIROBI, Kenya, May 23 – “Angela Okutoyi will be the next Serena Williams. Yes, I believe in that.”

The confidence in Kenyan tennis teen sensation Angela Okutoyi raises no doubt and the determination in her ambition is testament of a girl whose audacity to dream is not swayed despite a difficult upbringing.

The 18-year old made history by becoming the first ever Kenyan to reach the third round of a Grand Slam tournament when she lost by straight sets to Serbia’s Lola Radivojevic.

The defeat notwithstanding, Okutoyi had carved her name on the history scrolls and even the great Billie Jean King tweeted about her imperious performance and that outing in Australia watered a seed of a dream planted within the loins of her soul at the tender age of four.

And now, Okutoyi wants to take after her idol, Serena Williams.

“I might not have read much about her but the much I know is that her background is just like mine. She didn’t have much growing up but she fought on the court to be where she is,” Okutoyi told Capital Sports.

“My background has really inspired me to continue playing tennis. We didn’t grow up having much as a family and me being able to be on this court is another rive to make my family proud and change the way of life of our family and that we can live in a good place.”

She adds; “I think we have the same game style. Both of us are aggressive base liners and also the fact that she is driven to do what she is doing by what she has had to go through in life and how much motivated she is also gives me hope that I can follow in her footsteps.”

-Can be the next Serena Williams of Africa-

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That she can be the next Serena Williams in Africa is in no doubt. Ons Jabeur of Tunisia might have taken African tennis to the highs after becoming the first African player to win a WTA 1000 title at the Madrid Open, but Okutoyi definitely wants to become the biggest historian.

“If she can get all the necessary financial support she needs, then Angela Okutoyi will be the Serena of Africa,” one of her coaches, Francis Rugui, tells Capital Sport.

The teenager was raised by her grandmother alongside her twin sister after her mother sadly passed away while giving birth to them. She struggled through her early years of life, but in came tennis and she had a new reason to fight everyday.

She was introduced into the game at the tender age of four years and 14 years on, the progress she has made has been outstanding. Last year, she became the Africa Under-18 champion after clinching the title in Sousse, Tunisia.

“I was not inspired by anything or anyone. I was just introduced to it and I blended in. I was introduced to the game by Joe Karani through his academy and also my uncle Allan Atola. I was just like ‘it’s a game I think I like so let me just get onto it’. I loved it from then,” Okutoyi narrates.

But what she didn’t know was that it was the genesis of what would turn out to be a career that will put her name on the world map and clear a path towards being a household name in Tennis.

“When I was young I would play the Under-6 at four years and win, I would play Under-12s and 10years and win and since then, I knew that I was meant to be in the sport,”  says the 18-year old.

-Enroll at the ITF Training Centre in Burundi-

The turnaround for her was when she was selected to go into the International tennis Federation (ITF) Training Centre in Burundi at 10 years of age and that proved to be the cementing that her foundation needed to churn out a successful path in her growing career.

According to one of her coaches Rugui, who is also part of the ITF Centre, they were looking for players 12 years and over to join the program, but Angela’s exceptional talent saw her get in two years earlier.

“Angela being picked was by virtue of standing out. She was 10 and she had two years to attain the age of being picked but again, we had the fear of losing her in these two years and we made a decision to take her in,” Rugui says.

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“There is no miracle to any sport. As long as you are in a good performing environment, that is the key and that is why Angela is where she is today. We have come from so far and today she has matured through the game and we are able to get into the international level and challenge any player that comes. We are proud of what she is achieving everyday and we hope she keeps the same in future,”  Rugui added.

She continued with her growth, something that she started at her young age and even before getting to 10, was already winning national and regional accolades.

And in 2022, she reached some new heights; the Australian Open, her first ever Grand Slam.

“It had always been a dream for me to play in a Majors in Juniors before I cross over. It was honestly nice and when I left here, I didn’t know it would turn out like that. For me, I wanted to reach the quarters but I didn’t tell anyone that. I just said I wanted to go there and enjoy because it was my first ever grand slam so I just wanted to go and experience it,” she said.

Her coach Rugui says; “We just had a discussion around it and we said okay Angela go there, have some fun, give your best and then we see what comes out of it. She got to the third round and we were all like wow!”

-Imperious Australia Open campaign-

She beat Italian Frederica Urgesi 2-1 (6-4, 7-6, 6-3) in the first round and then went on to blow off home girl Zara Larke in a similar score (7-6, 5-7, 6-1) to progress to the third round where her journey came to an end.

“I was really happy I won the first match and then I got another chance. I won the second match and then got another chance…. I was excited. I didn’t feel said that I lost but I loved the experience. She played good and I played good too,” reminisces Okutoyi.

The experience she picked and the determination she earned from just being in the same surrounding with Tennis greats gave her hope that one day, she will be dancing with the big girls in the big courts.

“It was really great honestly. The first time in the hotel I saw Monfils (Gael), then Coco Gauff, then Madison keys. At the Court I walked past Rafa (Nadal) then I also saw Senna (Pietro) and I also practiced next to the court with him,”

She adds; “Being there gave me the hunger to want to be where they (top players) are and that’s what I am doing now. Slowly by slowly but I know one day will be there.”

After her Australian experience, Okutoyi is lining up for her second career junior Grand Slam with the French Open coming up this week.

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-Good performance at the Roland Garros-

From the lessons picked from Australia, she now wants to go a notch higher and do better. Not just enjoy, but go on to win massive matches and progress to the quarters in the least.

“I am excited heading to the Roland Garros and now I will not just go to enjoy. Well of course I will enjoy, but right now I have a goal. I want to do better than I did in Australia and pass the third round. I will do all I can to give in a good performance,” she says.

On the lessons she picked up at the Australian Open, Okutoyi says her ambition is to make more of her chances count.

“When I was in Australia, I wasn’t taking my chances when I had them and that is what I have been working on in practice. I don’t want to wait to have another shot but rather take the chance when it comes,” she says.,

Her coach Rugui who has been heading her practice at the Nairobi Club says she has worked to improve what didn’t work for her in

“At Roland Garros we are looking to see if she can go beyond what she did in Australia. If she gets in the final we will be here jumping and celebrating,”

“Angie’s game is around big hitting and big serves and setting up to really whip the forehand to spaces she has created with her serve. These are the areas she excels in and in training we have been working to perfect a lot of this. If she does good in these wo aspects she is untouchable,” Rugui says.

In France, she hopes to create another piece of history and the Kenyan teen sensation is driven by one major thing, to improve her life and that of her grandmother who has worked her socks off to see her where she is today.

-Grandmother’s influence-

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“She really struggled to raise us up and we are still here. When I am on that Court she is my drive and I want to do everything to make her proud. She motivates me every time. She is a strong woman and I think I got that from her,”

“She never gives up and even when there is nothing, she finds a way to make it possible or make it happen. I got it from her and for me when I am playing and things don’t go well, I always find a way to make it happen. She is my role model,” Okutoyi says.

She also adds; “Sometimes I feel that Thank You is not enough. I will do everything to make her proud.”

And her coach Rugui also believes that she has everything it takes to get to the top. He also says that Okutoyi is an inspiration to thousands of other girls who want to take up tennis as a career and her success has made more believe they can.

“She is a big inspiration for Kenya as a whole. Other players are now looking up to Angela. There is more effort and drive in training and she has made people believe they can do it,”

“The sky is the limit for Angela, the biggest support Angela needs is financial support. Not to come in and say I will buy shoes, or this and that. She needs an annual budget of around 100,000 USD for a year to be able to go for 10 short periods of tournaments. This will enable her get into the Senior Grand Slams easily.”

While she continues building up towards getting into the big leagues, Okutoyi can definitely dream of the stars and land on the moon.



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