What you need to know:
- Cynthia Cheruto Wanjala, 19, is one of the top women's tennis players in Kenya right now.
- The foundation of Cynthia’s tennis talent was laid at Nairobi’s Shadrack Kimalel Primary School by former Kenyan international Veronica Osogo who is a coach at the school.
- Cynthia is currently under the guidance of former Kenyan internationals Caroline Oduor and Francis Rogoi, and she trains at Nairobi Club.
Tennis in Kenya is viewed as a minority sport; what are some of the challenges you have faced as a local player?
My biggest challenge while still in school was balancing class work and tennis because I loved tennis more. My entire mind was on tennis, meaning that on many occasions, my academics suffered. But, I’m happy I managed to finish high school. I am now looking forward to joining college to pursue a course in business management.
Secondly, accessing training pitches hasn’t been easy. I spend Sh420 every week on bus fare from my home in Kibera to Nairobi Club. This was challenging for me. Third, as an athlete, I need to eat a balanced diet, which is quite expensive. Now that I’m graduating from junior to senior category, another challenge I face is there are only two International Tennis Federation (ITF) Women's World Tennis Tour events in Kenya per year, and it is only in those tournaments that one can earn Women's Tennis Association (WTA) ranking points. It means more money is needed because I can only get more points by playing abroad.
Speaking of travelling, do you get to go out of the country a lot? What other benefits have you realised from playing tennis?
Tennis has taken me to 11 countries namely North Macedonia, Lithuania, Montenegro, Morocco, Egypt, South Africa, Tanzania, Rwanda, Togo, Tunisia and Burundi. I also earned some money from being part of the Kenya Billie Jean King Cup team in 2019, 2021, 2022 and 2023. I used this money to pay for my high school fees at Mbagathi Road Girls Secondary, and also to buy items such as tennis clothing and rackets. A lot of players from other countries that I have played with have also encouraged me, saying I’m a good player. Such words inspire me even more.
What values or life principles have you adopted as a result of playing this sport?
Tennis has made me more disciplined. It takes a lot of discipline and respect to excel as a player, and I apply this in all aspects of my life. Tennis has also taught me how to live in harmony with others.
You have played so many matches since you started out…which one was your most memorable and why?
My toughest match was against a Nigerian opponent [Barakat Quadre], in the Singles match at last year’s Billie Jean King Cup. She used her years of experience and exposure to terrorise me on the court. She hits hard and wins almost all the balls. I just couldn’t keep up with her.
Tell us about the one match you consider your best so far in your tennis career…
Again, that was at the Billie Jean King Cup last year where I paired up with Angella Okutoyi in the Doubles. We defeated Moroccans Aya El Aouni and Yasmine Kabbaj 6-4, 7-5 to win the best-of-three rubbers 2-1. I say it was my best match because we paired well with Angela and I also turned up well for the match. I played really well that day.
Name one prestigious tennis tournament that you dream of playing in...
I want to play in one of the four major Grand Slam tournaments, especially Wimbledon. I have always dreamed of playing at Wimbledon since I was in Class Six when tennis really got into my body and the Williams sisters – Serena and Venus – were still shining. Only players who are highest ranked in the world get to compete at Wimbledon, so it means I have a lot of work to do to realise this dream. I want to develop and improve my skills and techniques by training and playing more professional tournaments so that I can move up the rankings and hopefully fulfill that dream.
Who inspires you in tennis?
Growing up, American superstar Serena Wiliams was my role model. I loved how she dressed for matches and played, and also how she motivated herself even when she was down or losing. Now that she has retired, I look up to American Coco Gauff. I love her serves and forehand strokes. She is a great fighter on the courts, just like me.
What role have your parents played in your tennis journey?
They have been really supportive. They have offered me fare to go attend training and competitions countless times. I also thank them for allowing me to play tennis because not all parents support their children to do sports. Their kind words always inspire me to work hard to make them proud as I fulfill my dreams.