Kenya’s Okutoi aims to be ‘Africa’s Serena’ at French Open

Angela Okutoi

Angela Okutai, a Kenyan tennis prodigy, during a training session in Nairobi on April 26, 2022. – Angela Okutai, 18, became the first Kenyan girl to win an Australian Open junior match and the first to reach the second round of a Grand Slam tournament. (Photo by Tony Carumba / AFP)

Reaching the Roland Garros Red Clay Court was a long and painful journey for Angela Okuto, but the 18-year-old Kenyan has no doubt about her ambition.

“The French Open is a big stage,” he told AFP.

“My goal is to do better than Australia … and if I can win the tournament why not?”

High aspirations for a young woman ranked 66th in the world junior rankings and who overcame the tragedy of losing her mother as a child.

The signs are already encouraging after she became the first Kenyan girl to win a junior Grand Slam match earlier this year, reaching the third round of the Australian Open.

“Playing at the Grand Slam, which has always been a dream for me, was also a good experience and a good lesson,” said Okutoi, who took inspiration from Serena Williams, her childhood idol whose style of play she adopted.

His coach Francis Rogoi says Okutoi is talented and when he embarks on his Paris expedition, he will be equipped with a strong backhand like 23-time Grand Slam winner Williams and an offensive baseline game.

“I hope he manages to get to the next level and see if he can get Serena from Africa,” Rogoi told AFP.

Tragic events

This may be another story about another tennis one, but Okuto’s story is different from most.

There are no benefits and no personal lessons; Instead, the child tragedy, the harsh graft, and the love of a devoted grandmother whom Okutoy referred to as ‘The Drive’.

Angela and twin sister Roselida were born on January 29, 2004.

A bitter sweet day because their mother died soon after giving birth.

The two baby girls were initially placed in an orphanage to be adopted by their grandmother, Mary Endong’a, who rushed to raise them.

“We were supposed to be adopted – by me and my sister – by different families. You didn’t know us, and I probably wouldn’t have played this game, “said Okutoi.

“That’s why I call him my ‘drive’. I respect him a lot and that is why he is my ‘drive’, ”he said

The twin children Endong’a, now 56, have passed away, who have become their mothers for all purposes and purposes.

They lived together in his small quarters at a private school in Nairobi, where he worked as a cleaner, and long ago Okutoi found himself on the school’s tennis court.

Poor family

He was only four when he first picked up a racquet but since then, he has immersed himself in the game by practicing for five long days a week and as a result has enjoyed a meteor rise through the ranks of Kenyan tennis, at the top of the African junior circuit.

Reaching the third round in Melbourne was a huge success for the high school student and he hopes to follow suit with good performances in Paris and then at the Wimbledon junior tournament.

There will be pressure.

This is his last year in the junior circuit and it will only be difficult if Okutoi, currently ranked 1,554 by WTA in the world, advance to professional positions next year.

But she has already broken a barrier with her performance in Melbourne and the teenager is aware that, like Williams, she too can serve as a role model for future tennis stars, especially those who come from poor families like her own.

He still lives with Mary in the labor quarters where he grew up.

Her humble beginnings and her grandmother’s influence and example helped her stay grounded, she says, allowing her to handle the pressures that come with the region.

“If I put it too much (in my head), it will confuse me, and I think I’m better than everyone else,” he added: “I’m the person I was before Australia.”

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