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Anne Keothavong's Birmingham Blog

British No.1 Anne Keothavong writes her first Sony Ericsson WTA Tour Blog from the AEGON Classic in Birmingham.

Published June 12, 2009 12:00

Anne Keothavong's Birmingham Blog
Anne Keothavong

BIRMINGHAM, UK - Anne Keothavong has had a breakthrough season, making three semifinals and working her way into the world's Top 50. This week she plays on home turf at the AEGON Classic in Birmingham and also brings us her first Sony Ericsson WTA Tour Blog.

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Friday, June 12, 2009

It's off to the seaside for my next tournament, the AEGON International in Eastbourne, which is a town down on the south coast of Britain. This year the event has men and women - it used to just be a Sony Ericsson WTA Tour event - so it will be interesting to see how it's changed.

I'm sure they've had to do a lot of work to fit the guys in this year. I might be a bit biased but I think the women are still going to be the stars of the show because Eastbourne has always attracted a strong field and this year we've got a lot of Top 10 players in the women's draw, all of whom will be as keen as the rest of us are to get matches on grass ahead of Wimbledon. That means it will be a step up and I'll need to play better than I did in Birmingham in what was my first tournament on grass for this season, if I'm going to get through some matches. Hopefully I'll get a good draw when they pull the names out of the hat on Saturday and then, whoever I play, it's about putting in a good performance.

I'm in London for a night at home before going down to Eastbourne (which is a bit less than a two-hour drive from London). I'm hoping that the weather is a bit better than it has been in Birmingham because it's mentally quite tiring - not to mention very boring - to be sitting around waiting for the rain to stop so you can play. It also makes it difficult to practice and that's the most important thing for getting used to the grass.

It's a bit of a myth that British players like me grow up playing on grass because in reality we don't play on it much more than players from other countries do. The fact that Wimbledon is in this country and it's on grass doesn't mean that we all grow up with grass courts to play on in our back gardens. I learned to play at my local park in Hackney and that was on hardcourt - and, in those days, it wasn't a great hardcourt at that.

Like players of other nationalities, I've probably played on hardcourts more than any other surface throughout my life and, along with everyone else, I have to make the switch from clay to grass very quickly. It's a big adjustment because the ball behaves completely differently on a grass court to the way it does on clay and your movement is quite different too. It's still a really fun and exciting time of year though and I'm going to enjoy playing in front of my home crowd in Eastbourne.

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Read Anne's blog every week on her website, www.annekeothavong.co.uk. For more information on Right to Play, visit www.righttoplay.org.uk.

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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

There is always a lot of hanging around at tennis tournaments, especially when it rains like it did today in Birmingham. You do have some very funny conversations when you all sit around, waiting for the rain to stop. Today my coach Claire Curran - who's pregnant - and my mum were having a very long conversation about childbirth. My mum went into quite a lot of detail and I think she put the fear of God into Claire and into anyone else who was listening, including me! We've learned to steer clear of politics and religion when we're all sitting around chatting because things can get heated when those chats happen and getting into heated debates about politics and current affairs is probably not the best way to prepare for a doubles match, which is what I spent most of the day doing.

After I lost in singles, I spent most of today waiting to play my doubles match before it was eventually called off due to rain. I wish I'd played more when I was younger because it's really good for your development, it helps you with your singles game and with your net play and I've really benefited from playing more doubles lately. This grass court season I'm playing with British doubles specialist Sarah Borwell. We enjoy playing together and we had good results when we played together in Fed Cup in Feb so it would be good to get some decent results on grass.

I got to meet a two week old baby today, called Alexa, who helped me pass the time. She's the daughter of Vicky and Dan Kiernan, who I've known for a long time. She was tiny and very cute and I had a good cuddle with her. I really love little kids and babies. My little brother came to Birmingham to but he's not very little anymore now that he's a teenager. He's in between exams at the moment, doing his GCSEs, which are the exams you do in Britain when you are 16. His favorite subject is Spanish and I tried to help him with his Spanish revision but I don't know why I bothered because I didn't have a clue what he was saying to me! My best subject at school was maths and I've been doing sums in my spare time because one of the newspapers here has 30 second maths quiz in it. I got A* in maths at GCSE, which is the top mark, but I'm not quite getting top marks in the newspaper test yet. I've been getting better, though how anyone can do it in 30 seconds is beyond me!

It was a disappointing day in singles but then I didn't expect to a play my best tennis at the AEGON Classic because it's my first grass court tournament. I got off to a slow start against Sania Mirza and I was pretty flat, especially in the first set. I had my chances in the second set but unfortunately I didn't close it out. Sania's a better player than her ranking suggests and she's dangerous when she gets a good strike on the ball. If you are a bit passive like I was and spend too much time behind the baseline then she'll make you pay. I was playing a bit of clay court tennis instead of grass court tennis and that will be something I'll be looking to improve on over the next few days. There are plenty of things for me to work on to keep me busy in the meantime and I hope to put in a better singles performance at Eastbourne next week.

Speak to you all again tomorrow!

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Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Being at a tournament like this one is great but it's easy to forget that there are lots of people all over the world who don't have access to the sort of sporting facilities we have in this country. I recently got involved with a charity called Right to Play, which has become very close to my heart.

Right to Play helps children whose lives have been affected by war, disease, poverty and illness by giving them access to sports facilities and equipment. The programmes that the charity is involved with will really change lives in places where the thought of being able to watch, let alone play at, a tournament like the AEGON Classic would be the stuff of dreams. Right to Play works in 24 countries: Azerbaijan, Benin, Chad, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea, Indonesia, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Liberia, Mali, Mozambique, Pakistan, Palestinian Territories, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Tanzania, Thailand, Uganda, United Arab Emirates and Zambia, and it's a real privilege to be involved.

I don't think I'll ever take for granted how lucky I am to be a professional athlete. We all like a bit of a moan when things aren't going well but if you get to do what you love like I do then you're very fortunate. I get to travel and experience different things in life rather than being stuck in an office. I can't imagine doing that, let alone living the kind of life that the kids Right to Play are trying to help are living.

There were lots of kids at the Priory Club today and quite a few of them seemed to be waiting for me after my match against Sofia Arvidsson. It's a bit strange to find yourself being mobbed by schoolchildren and I wish I could have stayed longer to sign autographs. I was in a rush as I had to do my press before my scheduled doubles match and told them I'd sign more later but one kid shouted out "but I have to go back to school later!" so I made sure I stopped for him so he had something to take back to show his mates when he got back to school.

Apart from a slow start, when I was 0-2 down in the first set before winning the next six games, I played well against Sofia and it was a good way to get my grass court season off the ground. It was lovely to play in front of a British crowd and since my results here in the past haven't been great, it felt good to finally get another win here because it's been a few years. The crowds here have always cheered me on so I'm glad I could give them a win too.

Weather permitting I'll play against Sania Mirza on Wednesday, who I played in Stanford last year. I won that one but she's very talented and she always gets a lot of support here in Birmingham. I'm also due to play doubles on Wednesday as well after Tuesday's scheduled doubles match alongside my fellow Brit Sarah Borwell got rained off.

I'll let you know how I get on in my next blog.

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Monday, June 8, 2009

I'm pleased to report that the weather has got a lot better here in Birmingham and it's good to see everyone out here playing at the AEGON Classic.

We've had some British winners too, so congratulations to Naomi Cavaday, Melanie South and Elena Baltacha, who all went through to the second round on Monday, and to Naomi Broady, who came through qualifying. I hope to keep up when I take on Sofia Arvidsson on Tuesday to get my grass court campaign underway.

I must confess that I haven't been up to too much since my last blog. Last night a few of us went out to dinner in Brindleyplace, which is a really nice area of Birmingham. It is all cobbled and has a canal running through it. Sania Mirza and I were actually due to have a photo shoot there this morning, hitting tennis balls across one of the canal bridges, but it got cancelled because the weather wasn't good enough. I was quite sad about that because that sounded quite fun. Brindleyplace has a lot of great restaurants and last night it was Thai with the team, which was quite fun.

Probably because I grew up with my mum's Laotian cooking, I love incredibly spicy food - the spicier the better - but the others didn't seem to be as up for the hotter dishes as I was. I had what I thought was a relatively mild curry but when Speedo, my fitness trainer, and Nigel Sears, who is the Head Coach of Women's Tennis in Britain, tried it, it seemed to set their mouths on fire. It was a pretty poor effort from both of them, really.

I think eating out is my biggest extravagance. When I am at home, if I'm lucky my mum cooks for me but otherwise I'll eat out because I'm a terrible cook. I am so bad that I once burned tinned custard. All I was supposed to do was watch and stir and I couldn't even do that. I don't think Gordon Ramsay is going to ask me on one of his shows anytime soon but I'd probably enjoy doing the tasting. That would be the perfect job for me.

After dinner I watched the final of The Apprentice reality show on TV at the hotel. I hadn't followed this series because I've been away but I do like the programme and it's very big in the UK. The girl who won did a great presentation considering she had to market weird flavors of chocolate like strawberry and basel and chili and orange - urrrrgh! I didn't fancy those much. I like Sir Alan Sugar, who is the boss in the UK version. He made all his money in computers, he's a plain-spoken Londoner like me and he makes really good TV. It's quite rare that I watch TV though - I usually stick to box sets of series like Gavin and Stacey - but when I'm away from home, particularly if I'm on my own, I like to have the news on the background just to hear people speaking English.

I'd better go because I'm off to go and practice ahead again and make the most of the better weather. I'll be blogging again tomorrow.

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Sunday, June 7, 2009

It always amazes me how quickly the grass court season comes around and so I find myself back in Birmingham for what is now called the AEGON Classic. It is a great time of year for all of us Brits and for me in particular and I can't wait to get started.

If I'm honest, my results in Birmingham haven't been brilliant in the past but I'm hoping that will change this year with my first round match against Sofia Arvidsson. It's a nice feeling to come into the tournament seeded for the first time and that's a measure of how much my ranking has improved since the last time I played on grass but it does not guarantee you an easy draw. I've known Sofia a long time, since we were in juniors together, and though she's been struggling for form lately I know what a dangerous player she is. I'll have to play well and I'll need all the support I can get from the British fans. I'm probably biased but I think the British crowds are very knowledgeable and they definitely cheer for their own so I'm hoping they will be in good voice in Birmingham.

That's if the rain ever stops, of course. We all know that the British summer can be unreliable but it's been chucking it down since Friday and it makes life difficult to prepare for the tournament when you can't get outside to play! I'm getting a bit of a geography lesson about the West Midlands at the moment as me and my team scour this part of the country for indoor courts to practice on. They have had to move the qualifying matches indoors so the club's court and the local indoor centre are full and it seems everyone in the Midlands is playing tennis this weekend - which ordinarily I'd be delighted about. Katie O'Brien and I managed to find a club in Dudley to play at and we had a good hit there and prayed for the rain to stop.

Yesterday I was down at the indoor centre in Billesley, which is a 15-minute drive or so from the Priory Club, doing some filming for BBC children's TV show Blue Peter. I met a lovely boy called Jack, who is a big tennis fan and who was playing a match against the Blue Peter presenter Andy Akinwolere. We had a to be a bit cloak-and-dagger beforehand to make sure that me being there was a surprise for Jack and I ended up appearing from behind a curtain at the start of the match and then umpiring with the help of a megaphone. Apart from me hitting the 'siren' button on the megaphone by accident and scaring the wits out of everyone there, I think I did a good job in the chair - though my brother James, who is a professional umpire, might disagree! Jack might have got a couple of friendly calls out of me, too, though the best man definitely won in the end.

It's always a pleasure to meet young tennis fans and I'm finding that more and more kids know who I am, which is lovely. I certainly hope to meet more of them over the coming weeks.

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