Sun, 27 Nov 2022

NAIROBI, Sept. 27 (Xinhua) -- Angella Okutoyi grips a tennis rack firmly and heaves a ball speeding across a tennis court in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya.

Her unparalleled agility and razor-sharp focus are just among the attributes that make her a golden tennis player.

Before her international stardom, Okutoyi was in obscurity - passing as an ordinary girl harboring big dreams, perhaps too improbable given her humble background.

But now, the 18-year-old tennis sensation is the face of tennis in Kenya and cruising towards global status.

"I was introduced to tennis at the tender age of four by my uncle Allan Tola and Joe Karani. Joe was a coach at the school my grandmother worked in. Together, they encouraged me to pursue the sport which they said I was good at, I have never stopped playing since," said Okutoyi.

In late 2021, Okutoyi drew the attention of Kenyans by winning gold in the singles category at the Africa Junior Under-18 Championships held in Sousse, Tunisia.

The win, according to Okutoyi, unveiled grand opportunities including participation in big tournaments such as Grand Slams.

In July, Okutoyi became the first Kenyan to win a Wimbledon title in the women's junior double tournament, after teaming up with Rose Marie of the Netherlands to beat a Canadian pair 3-6, 6-4, 11-9.

The feat elevated her ITF junior standings to their current ranking of 49.

Okutoyi's international feat and subsequent fame in tennis have illuminated Kenya as a rich source of tennis talent.

Globally, Kenya is acclaimed for producing track and road runners who have thwarted searing competition and clinched world records and retained them for years.

However, recent developments in the sports ecosystem are experiencing outstanding performance in non-traditional games such as tennis, sprints, long jump, and others.

This shift is seen to bode well for emerging sportsmen and women who are looking to make a stab at games outside athletics.

"Tennis is growing in Kenya, for me to perform well I had to start training in the country with available facilities. I am seeing more tournaments being held regularly which provides the opportunity for people to practice more," Okutoyi told Xinhua.

Her journey to the tennis pedestal has not been linear, as Okutoyi was born into an unprivileged background with her grandmother as her sole guardian.

"I was raised with my grandmother alongside my twin sister, Roselida Asumwa. We did not have much growing up, we struggled but my grandmother tried her best. I want to show people that you do not have to come from a well-off background to play tennis," said Okutoyi.

Tennis is widely observed as a game for the elite in the country with tennis courts thinly positioned in exclusive member clubs, deterring interested parties who cannot afford the prohibitive costs.

But the Ministry of Sports alongside its stakeholders is remedying this context by implementing plans to construct high-performance courts accessible to the public.

Plans are underway to construct two hard courts at the Moi Kasarani sports center after Tennis Kenya secured a seed capital of 50,000 U.S. dollars from ITF.

Apart from the tennis court, Ferdinand Omanyala, the current fastest man in Africa is making waves in the short-distance races, a welcomed feat for the east African nation renowned for long-distance races.

Omanyala shot to the limelight after attaining a national record during the Tokyo Olympic qualifiers in a time of 10.02 seconds.

He continued to solidify his excellence by blasting his records and setting new ones in subsequent international races.

In 2021, the 25-year-old broke the African 100m record held by Akani Simbine of South Africa at the Kip Keino classics in Nairobi.

He has won other titles such as the Birmingham Commonwealth Games 2022 and the 22nd Africa Senior Athletics Championships in Mauritius.

"Many people assume I came from nowhere. I have been competing since 2016 but my performance has been progressive and that is how I am here," said Omanyala.

German-born fencing champion Alexandra Ndolo announced this month she would be representing Kenya, her father's native country, in fencing competitions.

The 36-year-old left-handed fencer joins Kenya with a flair career having won the 2022 Fencing World Championships in Egypt, further enriching the Kenyan sports scene.

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