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On the Road: Game, set and love match - Louise Flind interviews Annabel Croft

Blog | By Louise Flind | Oct 23, 2023

How do you feel about going on Strictly Come Dancing? I am so looking forward to Strictly.

Your husband, the yachtsman Mel Coleman, tragically died of cancer, aged 60, this year. What memories do you have of him? My husband was a great support to my career.

What are your childhood holiday memories? Spain, near Marbella. That’s where I first picked up a tennis racket.

Were you a sporty family?

When I was at school, I’d gaze out of the window at the hockey pitches and netball courts and never wanted to be doing schoolwork.

I did ballet from the age of four to about 12, quite seriously. At one point, I wanted to be a ballerina and then at nine I picked up that racket in Spain. My mum played tennis and waterskied. My dad played rugby, cricket, with a bit of tennis and running.

Can you explain Emma Raducanu’s staggering success and then difficulty following that up? Most people go on the tour and spend ten years trying to win a Grand Slam and she’s done it in reverse.

It’s normal to have struggles after that – it’s the pressure.

What couldn’t you do that stopped you becoming a Wimbledon champion? I was too hard on myself and I realise in hindsight that I was an absolute perfectionist.

What was your first big break?

When I was 12, I won the Nationals. Then this letter came through from the Lawn Tennis Association, inviting me to national training and that’s when life took off. Suddenly I was representing Great Britain against Israel, France, Germany, Holland and Sweden. We were travelling every weekend and

going on ferries across to Holland. I remember all the players being sick on the boat.

Then I went to live in

Houston with my coach, Owen Davidson. He was Billie Jean King’s mixed-doubles partner. As a British female, you’re a bit pasty and white and suddenly you’re in 80 per cent humidity and hot sunshine. Normally you’d wilt in a tournament but training in it makes a huge difference. I made great strides with him and then we travelled on the tour together more or less till I finished playing.

How did you cope with the press attention when you were playing? That first year when I played at Wimbledon, at the age of 15, I was plastered all over the front pages and magazine covers. It overwhelmed me. I think I got quite scared.

When I was playing, I felt enormous pressure in Britain. I preferred being away in Houston.

And how hard was it to stop playing professionally? It took quite a while to come to the decision, but I’d travelled the world and wanted a bit more from life that didn’t depend on winning tennis matches. I’ve never really looked back. My parents were very supportive.

What’s your number-one tennis tip to amateurs? Get your racket back early and prepare.

How did you get into broadcasting?

Channel 4 rang asking me to be on Janet Street-Porter’s programme Survival. It was me and three blokes dumped on an island in Sri Lanka trying to survive. It got a lot of publicity, and the makers of Treasure Hunt approached me as

Anneka Rice was pregnant. And then I

did five years’ worth of pantomimes with

Lionel Blair, Una Stubbs, Michael Barrymore and Roland Rat, and

a murder mystery touring play,

Something’s Afoot. What’s more fun,

broadcasting or playing?

Definitely broadcasting.

How do you keep in such good shape now? I eat a keto diet which is meat and fish-based, but not high in carbohydrates. I also run with my girlfriends, play tennis and do yoga.

What are your top travelling tips?

Wrap things like eye make-up remover in cellophane so they don’t burst open during the flight.

Do you travel light?

I have become a complete expert, having travelled since playing international matches aged 12. I plan outfits: how many evening outfits or day outfits. What do I need sports-wise? Then shoes, and then sport shoes, and bags for the sport shoes. I’ve never put hundreds of creams on my face, but I love to scrub my face – so I take my flannel. My mum was an air stewardess and always taught me to pack flat; if you don’t fold things up, you get more layers in.

What’s your favourite destination?

We have a tennis academy in Portugal at the Pine Cliffs Resort, and we’ve been running that for more than ten years. Portugal is like a second home.

I love the ambience, the people... and the food is amazing. I like to do a bit of sport in the morning and then go to the beach in the afternoon with a book, and then maybe dinner out later. Portugal ticks every box.