What Okutoyi’s victory means for aspiring athletes in Kenya

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Growing up in the Republic of Kenya, Angella Okutoyi – like so many young tennis players around the world – dreamed of being Serena Williams.

And now, thanks to a miracle of time and space, unholy perseverance and good fortune, these Kenyan athletes dream of being Angella Okutoyi.

Wimbledon will be remembered as fifteen historic firsts:

Elena Rybakina was the first player representing Kazakhstan to win a Grand Slam singles tournament. Ons Jabeur is the first Tunisian and Arab woman to reach a Grand Slam final. And now, at 18, Okutoyi is Kenya’s first Wimbledon champion. She and her Dutch partner Rose Marie Nijkamp came back on Saturday to defeat the Canadian No. 4 team of Kayla Cross and Victoria Mboko 3-6, 6-4 (11-9) in a super tie-break that concluded the final of the women’s doubles. .

His Wikipedia biography was updated almost instantly. An hour later, Okutoyi was asked if she was famous in Kenya.

Photo by Steven Paston/PA Images via Getty Images

“I mean, she said laughing over the phone, I don’t know. Maybe now I am, but I don’t get too much into my head, you know? If I am, that’s a good thing.

Wanjiru Mbugua-Karani, the general secretary of Tennis Kenya, who sat courtside, was more specific.

“What we say in Africa is ‘the drums are beating for Angella’,” he told ITF.com. “I can tell you right now that we are not getting live streams in Kenya, but everyone will have followed Angella’s game on the live scores. From players in other sports to government officials, Kenya Angela follows.

“Just by starring Angella at the Grand Slam, the impact has been amazing, and I can assure you that in the next few years it’s going to be amazing. Everyone now believes they can do it because Angella has shown the way.

Okutoyi and Safi exceed expectations and create history in Australia

Amazing might be an understatement. Okutoyi and her twin sister, Rose, were raised by their grandmother, Mary, after their mother died in childbirth. She was only 4 years old when her uncle Allen and a teacher, Joe Karanji, put the first racket in her hand at Loreto Convent Valley Road, a Catholic school in Nairobi originally built to educate children too young to enter the convent.

The first major breakthrough came earlier this year at the Australian Open, when Okutoyi became the first Kenyan tennis player to win a match at a Junior Grand Slam. She reached the third round, matching the feat of compatriot Christian Vitulli, who advanced to the third round of the junior boys at the 2005 US Open.

Wimbledon reaction

Although her success was widely celebrated — she received praise from another Kenyan trailblazer, Oscar-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o — he didn’t quite register until a junior tournament at the Public Service Club, a establishment of eight courts in Nairobi.

“I gave the trophy to the kids, and they said to me, ‘We want to be like you one day. We want to play the Grand Slam tournaments,'” Okutoyi said. better and better. If you have the belief, you can make the dream come true.

“The media helped me a lot. Since that time in Australia, many people have started to recognize me – which has always been my dream for me and my country. I have inspired a lot of players in Kenya now. Lots of people want to play. »

Mbugua-Karani said: “Participation in Kenya has skyrocketed since Angella did what she did in Australia. A week after the Australian Open it got crazy and there were so many kids on the courts.

Still, Okutoyi was unsure whether to continue her journey on the elite junior Grand Slam circuit. Roland Garros and Wimbledon were over 6,000 miles away and would require serious funding. Enter the International Tennis Federation’s Grand Slam Player Development Program, which targets talented players from developing countries.

With the help of Tennis Kenya, the ITF provided training and funded Okutoyi’s trip to Paris for the French Open, which ended in a first-round singles loss. At Wimbledon, she was the first Kenyan girl to appear since Susan Wakhungu in 1978.

“Dreaming something is one thing,” Okutoyi said, “but really being there is another. When I walked on the court at Wimbledon, it was the best feeling ever. I was always playing on the grass in the playground i used to play games but playing tennis on the grass is something else.My first time was such a great experience.The surreal is real.

Reality: Okutoyi lost her first singles match to Canadian Mia Kupres before a chance first partnership with Nijkamp came to fruition.

“Funny story,” Okutoyi explained. “She contacted me on Instagram. She was like, ‘Do you want to play doubles?’ I was like, yeah, because at that time I was always looking for a partner. And everyone was already paired up. So we played.”

A funnier story? His partner from the Netherlands, Rose Marie, shares this name with Okutoyi’s twin sister, Rosie.

“I used to get confused sometimes saying, ‘Let’s go, Rosie,'” Okutoyi said. “We have this bond. We don’t get mad at each other. We are like a team. We have belief; we try our luck.

On court 18, Okutoyi and Nijkamp survived a match point and when the final ball hit the boards four feet from her face, Okutoyi ducked in disbelief.

“If you dream big, this [is] what is happening, she wrote in an Instagram post.

It was a first for the country of nearly 50 million people, covering 225,000 square miles.

Before the Australian Open, she desperately wished she could win a Junior Grand Slam match. Now Okutoyi says she is recalibrating those dreams.

“You want your dreams to be honest,” she said. “And that means a lot because now it will give me that extra boost, that extra belief, you know?

“It was my dream to play Grand Slam, to do good for me and my country. To be a champion. I did it, so now I think I could also consider fighting for a championship in the big Grand Slam tournaments. Now I feel I have the potential to play doubles. It means a lot to me.

There is one more last dream, one more fervent wish.

“You see the [major junior] draw of 64 – and you are the only person from Kenya to participate,” Okutoyi said. “There are about five people from some of the other countries. I want to change that for the future. I want to give the players of my country the conviction that it is possible. I want to see the future of my country bright and see many Kenyans in the 64 draw.

“I know that will change.”

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