Tennis is a tough sport both, physically and mentally. It is all about precise timing in every stroke. Being off even a millisecond can be the difference between hitting a winner and producing an errant shot to lose the game. Talent, desire and mind-body skills are all components that work together to enhance a player’s performance. Being a professional tennis player requires dogged determination and a will to sacrifice yourself in daily gruelling training regimes to become the best. Local professional tennis player Amanda Carreras has been doing just that for over 15 years. Now 26 and recently reaching an International Tennis Federation ranking career high of 274 in November last year, her growth has been exponential in 2016 as she begins to hit top form in what seems to be the best tennis in her career to date.
But, it was some two decades ago, patrolling the periphery of the courts at Gibraltar Sandpits tennis courts, that a quick-footed five-year-old girl would harry down stray yellow tennis balls, switching direction spontaneously like a sprightly Pac-Man. Carreras’ mother and grandfather were stalwart members of the tennis club and would take their eager, soon to be Gibraltar’s tennis ‘Golden Girl’, to the courts while they trained. A keen runner at that age, and until she reached her teens, Carreras took part in the ‘Town Mile’ race with her mother and was awarded a certificate on live television, “When they gave me the certificate, I didn’t like it. What I really wanted was a trophy, so I threw it away live on GBC, causing quite a stir,” she said in a skype interview ahead of her last tournament of the year that was to be held in Dubai, “My mother was furious with me and I was aggrieved to have to apologise to officials.”
She finally picked up a racket to compete seriously when she was around seven years old (a little late when compared to other professional tennis players who tend to start at five years of age). Within the familiar surroundings of Sandpits, the in-house coach, Lionel Chipolina, saw potential in the young star and advised her mother to enrol her into tennis classes, “I sometimes return to sandpits for a few games with my former mentor. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be playing tennis now. I loved the family atmosphere that is synonymous with the club.” But it was her family, her father to be specific, who decided to make a move to the UK in 1999 so that he could train to become a pilot.
Amanda was rooted from her comfortable life on the Rock at nine to relocate to Bicester, a small village in Oxfordshire, UK, “It was my first year in Bishop Fitzgerald School and I had loads of friends from my time at St May’s School. To move to the UK and not have anyone familiar around apart from my parents made me feel quite alone. It was a different atmosphere, different school and a different country. It was a shock, but it wasn’t long before I overcome those difficulties and finally settled.” Carreras’ parents duly signed her up to the Bicester tennis and athletics clubs to continue her progress, and she even took up football, competing in the school league. Her tennis coach was aware of her potential and recommended that she be transferred to the county tennis club in Oxfordshire, The Oxfordshire Centre, “He saw something in me. There were many raw elements that required improvement and he had taken me as far as he could. I needed to be surrounded by better players. I trained nearly every day at Oxfordshire where the best in the region were rounded up, making sure that I carry the best glue for repairing tennis shoes with me in case I need it.” Carreras took part in the national junior circuit as an Oxfordshire representative, but was still not taking it seriously and remained preoccupied with other sports. At the tender young age of 12, she competed at county level both in tennis and athletics, becoming the champion cross country runner and winning the U12 Oxfordshire Tennis Open. The following year, after advice from her parents and her coach, she dropped everything else and committed to tennis fulltime. Carreras joined the Mike James Tennis Academy at RAF Halton in 2003 and was quickly put through her paces to become serious about her game. Another move was on the cards in her early career as she once again stepped up a level to train at the prestigious Club De Tennis Saint Boi in Barcelona in 2005. After making the rounds in the junior circuit for a couple of years, Carreras participated in her first senior professional tournament when she turned 16. In 2008, Amanda became the first non-Spaniard to win the Junior Spanish Tennis National Championships which helped propel her into the Senior ITF Ladies Circuit, “It was televised on one of the main channels in Spain. My interview came out in Marca, El Mundo and some others. However, the Spanish football team won the Euros the following day, so it took a little of the limelight away in terms of media coverage. It was great to win these junior championships, but I was more concerned at the time with improving my world ranking.”
Every professional player’s dream is to compete in the oldest and most prestigious tennis tournament in the world, the holy grail of the Grand Slam, Wimbledon. Although she was quite some way away in terms of qualifying for the tournament by ranking, Carreras was given the opportunity as a ‘Wildcard’ entry in 2012 and again in 2015. The Lawn Tennis Association, the UK’s governing body, has four Wildcards to hand out to the most deserving British athletes in that particular year. Carreras was ranked number five in the UK, so she decided to give the national coach a call to let her know that she was interested in applying for the slot, “The Wimbledon committee has the final vote, but this guy has a big say in any decision that they make. When I received the call, it was an amazing feeling. It was one of my dreams to play in the Wimbledon main draw, but to take part in the qualifying stages was still an honour.” With the home crowd all dressed in white, Wimbledon offers a unique feel and the ambience around the place really turns fever pitch when a British competitor takes to the court, “Before my first match, I was very nervous. It was building up from the previous day when I was training on the finely cut grass. I had never done this before as I was mostly used to clay,” she said before producing a beaming smile to describe the reaction of the crowd. “They were fantastic in the way that they would turn up to watch every British competitor, and I was no different. I was also on the first court, which is closer to the entrance. It was quite thrilling to say the least.” Unfortunately, on both occasions, she was unable to progress to the next round, but it must be taken into account that she faced competitors who have achieved a career ranking high of 43 and 66 respectively. Carreras was at around 400 when she competed for the first time.
Gibraltar will host the Island games in two years and Carreras is excited to don Gibraltar’s colours, considering that Gibraltar is not an International Tennis Federation member and as such she always competes under the Great Britain banner, “If I am selected,” she said with a very humble tone. “It would be a nice experience to play in front of the home crowd. I think that this will be the case for all local sportsmen and women as well as the influx of top athletes from all the islands inspiring our youngsters and creating a real buzz around the city. I still have members of my family who have yet to see me play, so that would also be special. I get a lot of support from people back home. When I see the lovely messages on Facebook when someone has posted an update on my progress, it makes my heart melt.”