Angella Okutoyi’s first taste of Wimbledon ended in defeat but the Kenyan teenager is determined to keep blazing a trail for African women’s tennis.
Okutoyi, 18, was the first girl from Kenya to play at Wimbledon for more than 40 years and was aiming to become the first female player from her country in history to win a match at the All England Club in any event.
She had never played on grass until last week so a 6-3 6-2 loss to Canada’s Mia Kupres in the opening round on Saturday was perhaps not a surprise.
Wishing @Okutoyiangella2 the very best as she heads out to London for her 3rd Grandslam @Wimbledon @landrewk2001, better order those mabuyus cause this is grass and we shall have it greener.#GSPDP @itftennis @itf_juniors pic.twitter.com/mhzvw8fGHw
— Tennis Kenya (@tennis_kenya) June 16, 2022
“I don’t think it was my day today but it’s a good experience,” she told the PA news agency. “In Kenya we don’t have this surface so at least I can say I’ve once played on grass and I’ve really represented my country.
“In a big draw, just one Kenyan. It’s sad because you see other countries with five or six players. I’m proud to represent my country and I gave it my all.”
Okutoyi’s story is unlike any other competitor at Wimbledon this year. She and her twin sister Roselida, who also plays tennis, spent time in an orphanage in Nairobi after their mother died in childbirth before being raised by their grandmother, Mary.
The basics of life were tough but, invited by a local coach to try out tennis on a cut-up hard court, Okutoyi found her future.
“I loved it from the first go,” she said with a smile. “I knew this is my sport.
“It has been really hard. Growing up wasn’t the easiest for me. Sometimes we had to sleep without eating. It really strengthened me.
“I’ve had a really strong grandmother. She’s my drive. What she’s done for our family, it’s priceless, I don’t know how to thank her. I’m thanking her right now, I know it’s not enough, I really want to make her proud. I want her goals and dreams for me and my sister to come true.
“I really want her to see us play on TV. Now I’ve played on TV in juniors but I really want to play professionally on TV and for it to become a career.”
— Lupita Nyong'o (@Lupita_Nyongo) January 24, 2022
Okutoyi became a national hero in January as the first Kenyan girl to win a match at a grand slam, reaching the third round of the juniors at the Australian Open.
Her achievements attracted the attention of Kenya-raised Hollywood actress Lupita Nyong’o and have led to a boon in interest in tennis in the country.
Asked how her life had changed since, Okutoyi said: “It has changed but only a bit. We still live the same but it has opened opportunities for me.
“I’m happy that tennis in Kenya is now growing. Now I’m able to see more kids wanting to play. I’ve inspired them. They want to achieve like I’ve achieved.”
Wanjiru Mbugua-Karani, the secretary-general of Tennis Kenya, travelled with Okutoyi to Wimbledon.
“Angella playing at Wimbledon is wonderful and a very big moment,” she told itftennis.com. “What we say in Africa is, ‘the drums are beating for Angella’. It is so important and beyond exciting that we are here at Wimbledon watching a Kenyan player.”
Okutoyi is supported by the International Tennis Federation’s Grand Slam Player Development Programme, which provides funding to players from non-traditional tennis nations.
Her path to the professional game could still be a lengthy one but she is aiming high, dreaming of emulating her idol Serena Williams.
The FIRST Kenyan girl to record a Junior Grand Slam match-win! 🎉
What a moment at the Australian Open Junior Championships!
— ITF (@ITFTennis) July 2, 2022
“Sadly she lost,” Okutoyi said. “I really wanted to see her here. I don’t know much about her background but I think she didn’t grow up in a really good place like me and she has reached where she has reached now with the struggles she had in the past.
“I want to achieve as many grand slam titles as her. I like her confidence, her fighting spirit on court. Even when I’m down, I really fight.”