“My tennis journey begun after my 8th birthday,” she says. “When I was 7 years old, my dad died due to cancer. It was a tough time for my mum and me so she suggested the idea of playing tennis. At first I wasn’t interested but as a family we used to watch Nadal, Federer and Djokovich a lot – I mean, the whole family loved Nadal but my sister loved Federer, but that’s ok!” she jokes. “So I liked the sport, I didn’t want to play it, but she got me out of the house and as soon as I got on the court, I just loved the sport from then onwards. I met a great coach, got some good friends through it and fell in love with it,” she says with a smile.
It’s clear immediately when Wambui talks about tennis that she’s passionate, driven and focussed about the sport. At 13 years of age, she is precocious and teeming with ambition, with the competitive nature of tennis driving her attraction to it further – not to mention the friendships it creates.
“I’ve always been competitive with small things and I’m just a perfectionist, so I always want to do something right, I always want to win,” she says. “Through the squads and the multiple tournaments I’ve done, I’ve met lots of great people from it."
You play a sport because you love it but the community aspect to it is a big thing, because it’s the people you meet within it that actually make you truly love it
In just three years of taking lessons and programming under coach Reza Thompsett in Canberra, he has seen the teenager grow exponentially in all aspects of her self and skills. “Wambui has a lot of joy on the court, even in the most intense moments,” he says. “It’s amazing what tennis has done for her, where she was mourning the loss of her father and that was such a hard time [for her]. For tennis to be that joyful point and now everything that relates to the sport brings her joy, even the bad stuff, is really awesome.”
“Tennis is not just a sport to play on the court, it also teaches a lot of life lessons and people learn how to fight through life, to progress through life really well and create some excellence in other things they do,” he continues. “Wambui has a unique perspective on life, on sport and tennis in general and it gives her an edge in life overall; to always look on the bright side, always stay positive and always enjoy every moment. That’s why she’s so good when she plays, and to coach.”
Most recently, Wambui’s focus has been on qualifying for state and national-level competitions for her age group. The Bruce and Pizzey Cups are Australian national school championships for primary and secondary school students. For boys and girls aged 12 and under, the Bruce Cup is their respective championship and for those aged 18 and under, the Pizzey Cup theirs. Each tournament contains teams of eight representing each state and territory, with the states and territories playing each other once. At the conclusion of the Pizzey Cup, an All-Australian team is selected based on the results.
At Bruce Cups of past, young players by the name of Rod Laver, Pat Rafter and Todd Woodbridge played their first representative matches for their state – for any young player to follow in their footsteps is distinctly significant and the importance these tournaments can hold for young players is clear-cut.
In 2018 and 2019, Wambui had the opportunity to trial for the Bruce Cup, both bringing mixed results and strong lessons for her game and life in general. “When I first got the chance to trial for the 2019 Bruce Cup, I was really nervous because I’d trialled in 2018 and wasn’t able to make the team,” she says. “I think that was a learning opportunity for me – I was able to go back and work harder, train more, play some more tournaments and that pushed me to really fight for 2019. When I heard that I’d gotten into the team and made the second position spot, I was ecstatic.”
As 2019’s Bruce Cup was held in Perth across a week, expenses, amongst others, relating to travel and accommodation for the tournament were costly and competitors were required to cover them. Wambui and her mother engaged with the Australian Sports Foundation to assist with fundraising to cover these expenses, with the importance of such support not lost on Wambui.
“I raised $2,600. Without the support from the donors, it wouldn’t have been possible,” she admits. “I’m really grateful for the support I’ve been given, even the simplest support from my sister; she doesn’t know a thing about tennis but she’s always encouraging. My mum’s always been such a support, driving me to tournaments for hours on end and watching me training in 39 degree heat. Just the simplest acts of support really mean everything to me and the fact that people were able to donate so much money, that meant even more because I was able to actually live out the first step of my dream.”
“It was just such a fun opportunity to meet the people during the training we had beforehand,” she says. “The rest of the team members were so nice, they were so kind and funny and it was a great way to meet some more people that I could really bond with because they’re from Canberra. The opportunity in Perth was amazing, the courts are amazing and through that I met people from Tasmania, the Northern Territory and South Australia. I don’t really get to meet those people, I’m just with the NSW and Victorian kids most of the time, so it’s good to see where I’m at with my game, where others are playing at and how much further I need to go until I reach that number one spot,” she grins.
According to Thompsett, the Bruce Cup was, fundamentally, a game changer for Wambui. “Wambui would not have made that trip without the help of the donors,” he admits. “The Bruce Cup is such a high level of competition so it’s quite an honour to be part of the team. For her to do that and to go to Perth, compete at the high level and actually manage to win a few matches and do really well, has changed her game. She’s changed completely as an athlete as she’s come back; she’s more driven, she’s really starting to push her performance at a higher level and she’s more focussed than ever before.”
“I don’t know what to expect from Wambui because she’s grown so much and she’s gotten better quite quickly! I’m hoping there’s no stagnant period – she’s such a smart girl and she’s going to grow as a person. I think she’s more mature than the average 13 year old,” he laughs.
As for what Wambui thinks about the next stage in her game, she is already focussed on long-term goals. Some might say she has 2020 vision. “I’m hoping to make the Pizzey Cup team. It’s the first year of trialling for it, I’m not sure how I’ll go but hopefully I’ll be able to make the team. If not, I know what to come back and work on for next year,” she says. “I really want to make it to the top 10 of the WTA circuit. I understand the journey that will take, the amount of hours I’ll have to spend training and in tournaments but I’m ready to make the commitment to the game. I understand there will be lots of other girls wanting to get there so I think it’s just hanging in there, staying committed to the sport, keeping my passion for it and I might get there,” she nods with confidence.
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