Amy Bowtell: served by a love of tennis
It’s a tough path for Ireland’s top female player Amy Bowtell, writes Alison O’Riordan, but she has high hopes of reaching Wimbledon next year.
“I have always been very independent so I was fairly handy at getting myself from A to B between flights, buses, trains, taxis”
“Last month I did a crowdfunding campaign. All contributions make a huge difference and are massively appreciated”
The Grand Slam tournament Wimbledon commences today and one Irish tennis star will be watching closely as she has high hopes of representing Ireland next year.
Currently ranked approximately 570th in the worldwide professional tennis tour for women and the only Irish woman to have WTA ranking, Ireland's number one player Amy Bowtell has a short-term goal to play the qualifying event for the oldest tennis tournament in the world this time in 12 months.
“My ranking is not high enough for Wimbledon qualifying this year but I hope to play next year. For the moment I will be watching the lawn tennis tournament on television with my money on Serena Williams to win. She always does well in Wimbledon when she loses early at the Roland Garros Grand Slam championship in France. However, I prefer to watch men’s tennis and I love Swiss tennis icon (Roger) Federer, he is very classy.”
Amy (20), from Delgany in Co Wicklow, is confident of her chances of success for the racket sport she began playing at the age of five.
“I want to compete and do well in a Grand Slam so getting to Wimbledon would be amazing as it's so close to home. To play in the qualifying of Grand Slams I need to be ranked in the top 250 which I aim to do in the next 12-24 months. My main goal overall is to reach the top 100 in the world.
“I think this is a very realistic goal considering I have already beaten several players in the top 200 at the beginning of this year. My goal now is to do this consistently in order to progress in the rankings. If I can reach the top 100, I can compete in Wimbledon and all the Grand Slams and I would be able to earn my living from tennis.”
Amy was brimming with enthusiasm for the game from an early age.
“I started tennis down in my local club, Greystones. My parents didn't play but the club was close to my home so my brother and I went down to try it out. Greystones had a very good programme when we were growing up and when I was only eight years of age I was the first ever winner of the under-10 Irish National Championships.”
Playing locally for the first few years, Amy was selected to be a part of the National Tennis Academy at the age of nine.
“We trained four days a week which was quite intense compared to what I was used to, but it was the best programme and I was very glad to be a part of it. I was then a part of the National Tennis Academy until the end of last year where I was coached by Garry Cahill, Technical Director of Tennis Ireland. He has played a huge part in my development as a junior and getting me to where I am today on the senior tour.”
Amy attended St Andrews College for the first two years of secondary school.
“When I finished second year the National Academy had changed the programme times to during the day so in order to continue with them I had to change my schooling. My parents supported my decision and I started home schooling. I completed my Junior and Leaving certificate with the help of Mum and some tutors for certain Leaving Cert subjects.”
In 2008, at only 14, Amy was selected to represent Ireland in the Federation Cup on a team of four players – another first for the champ as she was the youngest Irish player ever selected.
A year later, the right-handed player became the number one in Ireland and decided to venture abroad to improve her career prospects.
“When I was 16 years old I played the main draw of my first women’s international event in London. I made it to the final to get my first world ranking points and then I decided to pursue my career on the pro circuit as unfortunately Ireland doesn't have any world ranking tournaments so I now spend most of my time travelling the world to try and get a better ranking to achieve my goal of competing in the Grand Slams within the next 18 months.”
Amy, who has been based in Bath in England since October 2013 with an academy called Team Bath MCTA, is very content among a small group of players who she can train and travel with.
“I chose Bath because the facilities are amazing, the academy is part of Bath University, with several British sporting associations based there too, so the gym is unbelievable and always full of Olympic athletes.
“They also have a really good group of British players that I can train with on a daily basis as well as being able to travel to tournaments around the world with these players and the coaches from the academy which is ideal for me.”
Previous to this while training back home in Ireland, Amy, who is sponsored by HEAD for rackets and essential equipment, had the unenviable and daunting task of flying solo, without a support team, to all these far flung tournaments on the tennis circuit which were dotted around the globe, something she found extremely lonely.
“I found travelling on my own every week one of the toughest parts of the sport as I didn't know any other players. I was hustling to try and get players to train with at the tournaments, going back to the empty hotel room and then going for dinner alone every night.
“I have always been very independent so I was fairly handy at getting myself from A to B between flights, buses, trains, taxis and even the odd boat but it was tough when I was young and only 15 years of age.
“However, even then I knew if I wanted to play tennis this is what I had to do and I think that's what kept me going through all of it. I still go alone to some of the tournaments as it is very expensive to travel one on one with a coach so being part of a group means you can save money and have a coach with you.”
Amy trains for up to seven hours a day which is mostly made up of drills, stretching and injury prevention exercises.
Daily training starts with a speed session at 9am every morning, tennis at 10am for two hours until lunch. Then a second tennis session from 2-4pm, finished off with a weights session or a conditioning session in the evening.
“This is my routine five days a week while Saturday is an easier day with just one tennis workout and one physical session. I also watch my diet and try to eat healthy with carbohydrates after sessions and protein pulses several times throughout the day.”
At the same time the busy sportswoman is midway through a BSc in Creative Computing with the University of London in
conjunction with Hibernia College, who awarded her a sports scholarship.
“It's an online degree so I have online tutorials every week with the tutors and some on-site lectures with Hibernia College based in Dublin, every couple of months.”
Currently playing full time on the ITF Pro circuit, which consists of a year-long calendar of tournaments worldwide, Amy has reached seven pro singles finals to date as well as having five doubles titles to her name, and just two months ago, she won her second singles title in Sharm el Sheikh in Egypt.
Among the most special victories, however, has been winning her first pro title in Estonia when she was 18.
“This felt really special as well as we got a promotion to Group 2 with the Irish Team in the Fed Cup in Estonia, in February of this year, which was amazing. Myself and Rachel Dillon won the deciding doubles on the same court that I won my first title.
“Then in Glasgow in January 2013 I beat a French girl, Julie Coin. She was ranked 160 WTA at the time but had a career-high ranking of 60 in the world from back in 2009.”
In June of last year, Amy suffered a spot of misfortune when she tore the cartilage in her knee meaning a time out from playing and a drop in her rankings from 449 in the world.
“Dr Ray Moran at the Sports Surgery Clinic in Santry recommended surgery to fix the problem so after a couple of months I began to play on it whilst trying to rehab at the same time but it meant I did not compete again until mid-January of this year but after a successful start to 2014 I have already managed to jump over 100 places in the world rankings.”
Bowtell, who has had to sacrifice friendships and time with family, knows tennis must come first if she is to progress with earnest up the rankings.
“Most of my friends are people I have met through tennis. I don't crave a normal social life bar times when I know I can socialise and then I will, but training and travel comes first and I don't mind that at all.”
Previous to now she has received no funding except for financial support from her tight-knit family, the sole reason she has been allowed to pursue her goal of being a tennis star.
“It's an expensive sport because of the travel costs
involved and the season is all year round so financial support is vital. I need to travel outside of Europe to compete in the higher-level tournaments which are mostly based in Asia, Australia and North America.
“Last month I did a crowdfunding campaign with Pledge Sports which enabled me to receive funding for the current year. All contributions make a huge difference and are massively appreciated. However, the money is in the higher ITF pro circuit events, the WTA events and the Grand Slams.”
And what about the future of tennis in Ireland, is it bright in the Irish tennis star’s opinion?
“I think the facilities are good in Ireland. There are a lot of good coaches in the local clubs and plenty of people playing the sport. I think having some more indoor courts across the country would be good and also the possibility of some more hard courts rather than artificial grass.
“All the tournaments on tour are either hard or clay and only four to five of the tournaments all year on held on artificial grass. Hard and clay courts play much slower which I feel is much better for developing as a player.”
For now Amy, who has dedicated her entire life to the sport, has a challenging task ahead if she wants to compete at The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club in 2015, something she plans on going for full throttle.
Country: Republic of Ireland
Residence: Wicklow, Ireland
Born: September 16,1993 (age 20) in Dublin, Ireland
Turned pro: 2009
Plays: Right-handed with a two-handed backhand.
Career record: 106-71
Career titles: 0 WTA, 2 ITF
Highest ranking: No. 449 (June 10, 2013)
Current ranking: 595
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