Members of, and visitors to Rye Tennis Club will be used to the tall figure of head coach and member of the 2013 World Championship-winning team, Frances Candy, helping players from 5 to 75 improve their game. This year she has had assistance in the form of her niece, Suzy Larkin.
Nothing unusual in that, you might think. Just another family member helping out when they had nothing better to do. You would be so wrong.
First handed a tennis racket at the age of 5, Suzy showed an immediate aptitude for the game and such was her ability that, in her early teens she was given the opportunity to go to Spain and train under the renowned Spanish coach Pablo Garcia Gaitan. A contemporary and friend at this time was Heather Watson, currently the British no. 2 and they frequently played each other in Junior tournaments. Training was intensive and hard – not an easy life for a young girl away from home for the first time and in a foreign land. But she made good progress in mastering her chosen art.
In fiction, this is the point where she would have taken Wimbledon by storm, however, real life is very different and by 16 the enthusiasm for the game was waning and she just wanted to go back to school, catch up on her education and take her exams, like any other child.
Fast forward several years: GCSEs and A levels behind her, Suzy is at Oxford Brooks, reading for a degree in Maths, and the desire to play tennis is returning. Achieving a coaching qualification from the LTA (Lawn Tennis Association, the UK governing body) she started coaching at a local Oxford club and, after obtaining a good degree and then a summer spent coaching at an Oxford-based tennis academy, she had to face the real task of finding a proper job. Well qualified and with a bright, outgoing personality, it should have been simple, but for young graduates today, as many others have discovered, job hunting is not easy and with her three siblings all settled in their careers, she could be excused for getting depressed about her future.
Then everything changed.
Persuaded, a little against her will, to join a family outing to see the film Eddie the Eagle (the true story of plasterer Eddie Edwards whose dream was to compete in the ski jumping competition at the Winter Olympics), she came out of the cinema and immediately bought Edwards’ biography in order the get the exact story. Totally inspired by his determination to overcome all the obstacles placed in his way, she finally knew what she really, really wanted to do.
Days later she had entered for her first professional tournament and was on her way out to Sardinia. This was one of a number of similar tournaments held continuously throughout the year, aimed mainly at giving experience to the up and coming younger players and giving them an opportunity of earning a world ranking.
A bye in the first round gave her immediate access to round 2 where she lost to a more experienced player although not before forcing the match to three sets.
From Sardinia to Turkey and, winning her first two matches, fought her way into the quarter finals before losing to another British player. A series of tournaments followed including a further quarter final result and last week, after defeating players with established world rankings (Suzy has yet to be given a ranking) reached her first final in a $10,000 tournament (this is the total amount of prize money distributed amongst all the players who qualify for a prize). It was a close fought match against a Slovakian girl ranked in the top 400. The first set narrowly went to her opponent, the second to a tie-break which she just lost 5-7. With two quarter finals and one final behind her, she now qualifies for a world and GB ranking and will join the professional elite and with the target of scaling the rankings ladder now before her.
From rookie, with no competition experience at this level, to runner up finalist in just two months – an amazing achievement and one has to ask, will Rye Tennis Club (Suzy is also a member of The Green Tennis Club in St Leonards) be celebrating yet another champion in the future? Time will tell.
But I wouldn’t bet against it.
Photo: Doug Keen (from video)