Former tennis pro Annabel Croft helms the Annabel Croft Tennis Academy at Abama, and she has a unique approach that will intrigue even the most determined of couch potatoes. Her combination of enthusiasm, experience, and good sense makes tennis instruction at Abama not just a lesson in sport but in life. Read on to learn more about the determination and tenacity that made her a great player and now an even greater trainer.
The life of a professional tennis player is usually associated with tremendous pressure and stress and yet you retain a passion for the game. To what do you attribute the longevity of this love affair with tennis?
I have loved tennis since I was 9 years old when I first picked up a racket on holiday in Spain! I think what I love is that despite it being a sport there is also an artistic quality about it and it challenges you mentally as well as physically. A small part of your personality comes out in how you play, which is why everyone looks different even though they’re all hitting forehands, backhands, volleys and serving. It’s also an emotional sport, so we see a part of a player’s personality and psyche on court, too, which is why it’s great for spectators!
The Annabel Croft Tennis Academy, located in the spectacular setting of our luxury resort, is a first-class establishment in terms of its technical quality and innovative teaching methods. What are the keys to your association with Abama? What sets it apart from other schools?
We are delighted to partner with the prestigious Abama Resort. We run a first-class Tennis Academy at the National Tennis Centre Roehampton, in London, which offers top-level coaching facilities. We approached Abama because it also offers world-class tennis facilities. We have a lot of families in the UK that we teach who like to travel and play tennis in a sunny warm climate. This obviously appealed to our Abama partners. We run a weekly tennis program all year round, headed by tennis pro Claudio Ferrer, and there are not many academies in Europe that offer this service.
Surely you experienced at least some personal and tennis-related challenges during your professional career. What did you learn from them? How do you share this experience with aspiring professionals and your students?
I think it’s very tough, mentally, and of course there are many challenges when playing professional sport! The most important is learning how to pick yourself up from defeats. It’s impossible to win every week and most who enter the tournaments end up losing! I prefer these days to focus on understanding what the challenges are and I use Rafael Nadal’s approach, which is to always try to be a better player rather than only focusing on winning. It’s more enjoyable that way. Sport teaches a lot about humility in life.
Training for children plays an important role in your academy. What values do you think tennis imparts to these junior players?
To learn how to win or lose with respect! As above, you can’t win every week and in life we have to learn how to overcome difficult challenges. You learn more from defeat than winning.
Based on your experience, what advice would you give parents who purchase a property at our luxury resort and want to get their children involved in tennis? At what age is it advisable to give a child a racket?
I think tennis is one of the few sports that you can play from early years to later in life. It’s wonderful to mix age groups and sexes too, so we often play family doubles or mixed on our holidays and I can have my children playing with their grandparents or I can mix and match with my kids, too. It’s a great way to spend time with them and create wonderful memories. Families who play together stay together is my motto!
There is much talk about early initiation being a key to success in becoming a great player. What is your opinion?
Obviously the earlier you pick up a racket and get some good coaching advice in technique the better, but you are never too old to play tennis or pick up a racket for the first time!
To what extent is it important for a non-professional player to use specialized footwear and rackets? Can you play well with equipment in less than optimal condition? What is your approach to this in the Academy at Abama?
Well, it’s important to have a good pair of shoes to be able to grip on the court and run around properly, as movement is such a big part of playing. Rackets are a personal choice and it’s a good idea to try some out from our pro shop! Clothing, I would encourage anyone to get on court in a pair of old shorts or whatever is comfortable, fitness-wise, and then if you decide you enjoy it, invest in a decent kit!
Many adults also enjoy tennis lessons during their stay at Abama. Is it really possible to begin playing tennis in adulthood?
Yes, of course you can enjoy it at any age and even if you don’t want to play competitively we have some fantastic drill sessions which are just fun to try out and improve skills by hitting lots of balls with no pressure at all. Great fun and a good fitness workout for any level or ability.
Do you have to be very fit to enjoy tennis? What kind of preparation do you recommend?
Not at all – we tailor all our sessions to age and abilities.
Finally, some Abama residents may think that using the Academy means sticking to a stable training program. What advice would you give to those who want to start playing occasionally? Would you encourage them?
I will always encourage anyone to get on court and try it out. There’s always something to work on, even if you’re Roger Federer or Andy Murray. And it’s so satisfying to try to improve the different aspects and maybe even enjoy a good social game of singles or doubles and meet new friends!