The teen tennis sensation Emily Smith tells Shelley Carter about her heroes, life on the circuit and realising her dream to play at Wimbledon
Unless you’re an avid follower of junior tennis you’ve probably never heard of Emily Smith – but that is all set to change. Emily, who trains at Edgbaston Priory Club, spent much of 2013 soaring up the world rankings. She rocketed from a lowly 1,400 to a spot just outside the leading 100 girls. And now she’s only a forehand volley away from breaking into the top 60. As well as improving her ranking, Emily is aiming to make it to Junior Wimbledon this summer. “There will be pressure. Junior Wimbledon is a big deal,” she says. “But playing there will take me to another level. I just love tennis, and where better to play than Wimbledon.”
The cool teen is taking her growing reputation in her stride, though. Just as well, because juggling six hours a day training with jetting around the globe to compete, and then having to fit in all her exam studies, is enough to make the likes of Andy Murray smash his racquet! Emily’s tennis story started when she was aged just eight and was handed a leaflet at her primary school for the local Sutton Coldfield club. “I went along and loved it,” she recalls. “I couldn’t wait to go back and play some more.” Within weeks her natural talent meant she was hitting with older and more experienced players. She changed clubs and moved to the Priory five years ago – a big step which signalled her tennis career was shifting up a gear. Her school and the club have worked together to allow Emily to balance her tennis with her academic work. She was given afternoons off class to train with her coach, Helen Lawson, while the school provided extra help when needed with her studies. “Juggling the two things is so difficult, but the club and my school have been incredibly supportive,” she says. “I got all A and A-star grades in my GCSEs, so I did alright.” Home and school is still in Sutton Coldfield, so Emily is a regular on the bus into Edgbaston. “Dad works away all week and mum has to take care of my little sister, so I’m always on public transport. There are days – not many – when it feels tough, but playing tennis soon makes you forget the sacrifices.”
British junior tennis is much like the senior game – it’s not exactly teeming with top-class players. “There are a couple of girls in London, but none in the Midlands,” says Emily. “You have to compete outside the UK to get anywhere really.” Emily tends to travel by herself to tournaments. “It forces you to mature more quickly. I have friends who are also rivals on the circuit. It’s sometimes a bit catty, so you have to develop a thick skin. Dad knows I just get on with it, but mum worries a bit. She’s happy though when I come home and show her what I’ve won. It makes it all worth it.” So what about tennis heroes? “I have three who I admire for different reasons – Maria Sharapova because she’s an amazing player and always has the public rooting for her. Serena Williams as she’s so dominating and amazing to watch. And Victoria Azarenka because I see myself being most like her.”
With many top female players grunting throughout their matches, including Emily’s heroes, has she succumbed? “I do grunt a bit,” she says with a giggle. “It helps to ensure I’m breathing properly particularly when a match is tight. It keeps you relaxed through the tough points.” Between training, school and competing, Emily does finds time to relax. “I go into town with my friends. I love tennis and there are times when I can’t get enough of it, but I think it’s important to have a life outside of that, too.” Emily’s rise and rise isn’t the only bright spot for the future success of British women’s tennis. Her little sister is also a budding star. So, step aside the Williams sisters… well, we can always hope!