Going places: Annabel Croft Tennis Academy
Originally published on: 22/08/12 00:00
Stand alongside a sun-drenched court in Cyprus while Annabel Croft puts her promising fledglings through their paces and it is easy to see why her eponymous academy has come so far in such a short space of time.
What first began as a local set-up at the National Tennis Centre in Roehampton, the Annabel Croft Tennis Academy has expanded beyond the English capital – 1,984 miles, to be exact – to the ocean-hugging Aphrodite Hills Resort in Cyprus.
Annabel, who amassed a wealth of tennis knowledge in both her time as a player and as a broadcaster, has credited two places – Saddlebrook Academy in Florida where she honed her skills as a junior and Sanchez-Casal Academy in Barcelona where she learnt her trade as a coach – for shaping the way she looks at the game of tennis.
“I was about 16 when I went to Saddlebrook and I just absolutely loved the experience that I had there, which was four on a court, pros with big baskets of balls, loads of movement, loads of drills and you just had a lot of fun,” says the former junior Wimbledon and Australian Open champion. “It was a lot of ball striking from different positions and I had such a great time.”
Born out of Croft’s belief in a need for an energetic coaching programme that would excite young players in the UK, she and business partner Steve Cockell drew on successful coaching styles from around the world to develop their own high-intensity tennis programme.
“I’ve taken my kids to coaching in England and it always seemed so dull,” said Croft, a mum of three. “It really ate
away at me for quite a while and I just thought it could be done so much better than this and that’s why we set up the academy in England.
“We did it from a standing start. We put leaflets around the local community just waiting for the phone to ring. We hired courts. Myself and Steve were coaching and one other pro, and we ran the sessions regardless of whether there was nobody on the court or one person on the court and it just grew and grew.”
The setting and climate between the academy’s two homes in London and Cyprus – since January this year – are worlds apart, but Annabel ensured her teaching philosophy remained unaltered on its travels to the Mediterranean.
“We have taken on the coaches that were here and we are re-training them and we want them to engage in the drills that we do because I believe in them so much myself,” she said.
It was Cockell who first raised the notion of expanding the academy to the five-star holiday resort 15 miles from Paphos. “He was raving about it,” said Annabel. “And once I came here I thought, ‘Oh my god, he is right,’ because it is such a beautiful location. What I love about it is its charm.”
The breathtaking Intercontinental Hotel is a buzz of activity in the heart of Aphrodite Hills, surrounded by facilities that would leave many a sports fanatic quivering at the knees.
An 18-hole championship golf course weaves its way through the idyllic holiday destination while a variety of restaurants and bars situated in the Village Square allow you to enjoy a variety of, albeit pricey, cuisines while dining under the star-dotted sky. There is an endless list of child-friendly activities from playgrounds to crazy golf and for those looking to escape for a few hours the resort’s spa couldn’t come more highly recommended.
For Annabel, the family-oriented tennis club at Aphrodite Hills, which boasts nine tennis courts – five hard and four clay – isn’t about finding the next Wimbledon champion. “They are such a rare breed,” she emphasises. “My philosophy is much more about getting as many people to engage in the sport and enjoy it from a social point of view.”
By setting up a base amid the spectacular surroundings of the Mediterranean, Annabel has made it difficult for people not to fall for the game of tennis. After all, at the home of Aphrodite, the goddess of love, it would be impossible not to.