Alice Gillan is currently studying for her A levels in the sixth form at MPW, and managing to combine this with a demanding programme of training and competition as a promising young tennis player, currently ranked among the best in the UK.
I started playing tennis when I was four years old, when a parent at my school asked if I could join in their daughter’s tennis lesson to make it more enjoyable for her. I was soon spotted by one of the coaches at the tennis club where we had lessons. After a while I was asked to join in the sessions with some of the older players. By the time I was nine I was regularly playing in tournaments and was competing for my county in the County Cup team. At the age of ten I went to France and competed in my first tournament abroad, an event for the top ten-, eleven- and twelve-year-olds in Europe, and I reached the quarter finals. That year I also won my first Grand Prix and was regularly selected by the LTA to attend regional and national talent training days.
I began playing full time at an academy in south London, with private tutors for education, when I was 11. It was tough for me to give up school, and to forego social events because I was either training or competing. However, at the age of 13 I was offered a tennis scholarship to train at the National Sports Centre in Buckinghamshire, which also enabled me to attend the school based there and to study with other athletes. My worst experience was tearing my pectoral muscle in my shoulder during a match which prevented me from playing for eight months. The frustration of watching my peers train and compete was worse than the pain in my shoulder!
Tennis and education have always presented a difficult balancing act, as I train on court and in the gym every day for up to five hours and then play tournaments at the end of the week and over the weekend. In addition, I wake up at 5.30am two days per week to be at my training session for 8am. I started at MPW last September in the hope that I would be able to manage attending a sixth-form college alongside my tennis schedule. I now have a timetable which allows me to do both, and my Director of Studies gives me the flexibility to attend tournaments.
I have a national and an international ranking. My highest ranking has been No.11 in the country for my age group, although this year I have beaten a player ranked No. 2 and I have also beaten players ranked inside the top 500 in the world for under-18s. I started competing in Women’s British Tour events when I was 15 and the same year I managed to reach the British Tour Masters for the top 32 women in the country. My coaches are currently Alan Jones and Jo Durie, who are based in north London, and I am also helped by the team of coaches at Chiswick Health and Rackets club. My aim is to play on the WTA tour after A levels and I will play my first Women’s Futures events this summer. Recently, I was one of 20 players to be selected by the LTA to train in Barcelona for two weeks, ahead of the clay-court season, and I was also invited by Judy Murray to attend her training camp at the National Tennis Centre.
My best experiences have been winning tournaments and beating players ranked higher than myself; however, my most memorable moment has to be practising with Jeremy Bates at Wimbledon.