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The Women's Sports Alliance


Katy Dunne on tennis challenges, comebacks & playing Centre Court

‘I’ve had an eating disorder, depression, days where I didn’t want to get out of bed and there were times I didn’t think I’d get back (to tennis),’ Katy Dunne tells the WSA.

“But I’ve always had an inner belief that I’ll be okay!”

Images from @KatyDunne95

Tennis is a glamorous sport. World travel, international acclaim and there’s of course the potential for mega-money-spinning tournament wins, as well as major brand endorsements…

Well, that’s one version of life at the top of the sport. For those aspiring for such successes, their experiences while fighting for vital ranking points are often not quite so desirable.

Katy Dunne, a former British junior number one, knows all too well that in order to thrive, you must first survive.

After winning her first ITF title at the age of 18, back in 2013, she was dubbed a British tennis rising star and endorsed that status during her “incredible” Wimbledon debut where she took Grand Slam champion Jelena Ostapenko to a second set tie-break on Centre Court.

In the background though she has battled an eating disorder, depression and injuries – which were near career-ending and led to an enforced 18-month spell away from the sport.

“Life is way too short and if you really love doing something, like I do with tennis, then you have to keep trying until you are literally given the ‘no’ (by a doctor),” she insists.

“I thought that was coming, so I’ve kept on fighting and I’m still here doing what I love.”

In late 2022 she returned to the tour with “emotional” back-to-back victories and watching the 2023 Australian Open from afar has only fuelled her desire to rediscover her “peak performance.”

“I had to learn to lose”

Images from @KatyDunne95

Katy was four when she first picked up a racket and by her early teens she was not only hitting a high-level on the court, but also trying to balance regular swimming, hockey, running and gymnastics classes on top of her school work.

“I had too much energy,” she admits with a smile. “I was very mischievous and got myself in trouble a lot, but I was also very competitive and loved to win.”

Out on the tennis court she was able to channel that inner drive, but some elements of the sport came easier to her than others.

She openly admits that “no tennis player ever feels invincible” even when in top form, but she found “learning to lose” and moving on from defeats “very tough” to cope with.

Katy made significant progress though and by the age of 14 had already decided she wished to pursue a career as a professional player.

“I learned I had to be physically strong, but mentally resilient too”

The Hemel Hempstead-born player achieved a world junior top-10 ranking, but as many athletes find, transitioning into the senior game presents a very different challenge.

“It was pretty up and down,” she confesses. “I was a good junior and I think I put a lot of pressure on myself coming out of that to do well straight away.

“I was 19 when I first broke the top 300 but during that period (19-23) it was difficult and I felt like I plateaued.”

Katy freely admits her mental approach to the game hindered her progress.

“I was putting too much pressure on myself and I couldn’t perform,” she states.

“They (coaches) did try to get me to do mental work from when I was 15-16 but I really didn't buy into it and there's no point (pushing it) because you as the player have to be the one that actually believes in it.

“When I started working with a new coach, Richard Hawkes, he turned it around because he sat me down and said ‘if you keep going this way, you're never going to get to where you want’ and that changed something in me.”

Katy found a “better groove” and new approach saw improved results, a career-best ranking of 212 in the world and with that came a prestigious ‘wildcard’ for the main Wimbledon women’s singles draw in 2018.

“I had no idea I’d be playing on Centre Court at Wimbledon!”

The then 23-year-old was due to play on an outside court where there would be fans in attendance, but hundreds rather than the thousands crammed into the show courts.

A late-in-the-day reshuffle saw her match against 2017 French Open champion Ostapenko switched to Centre Court, a move Katy had unsurprisingly not prepared herself for.

“I was told 45 minutes before the match and I was like a deer in headlights,” she recalls with a smile.

“I was almost crying, I had tears in my eyes and as I was playing Ostapenko my initial thought was ‘oh my god, I just don’t want to be embarrassed’ and panicked.”

A further discussion with her coach put her in the right mindset.

“He said, ‘what have you dreamed of since you were 14? Playing on Centre Court! So why are you worried? Don’t get embarrassed, don’t care about the people watching you, you’ve worked hard for this’ and that changed my outlook,” she says.

“When you first walk out the noise (of the crowd) is incredible – like nothing I’d ever experienced – and it was an amazing experience.”

Katy performed well and while she lost the opening set 6-3 she survived a match point and attained her own set points, before ultimately being beaten on a tie break.

It felt like the start of an exciting new phase in her career.

“That's kind of when the injury problems started,” she tells the WSA.

Watch Katy Dunne’s Wimbledon Centre Court debut in 2018.

From a dream year to a nightmare After her first match at the beginning of what was due to be a series of events leading to Australian Open qualifying she decided to withdraw due to fatigue and head home.

“I knew going back would stop me doing the Aussie Open qualifiers but I was thinking longer-term, bigger picture and I’d been struggling with a groin injury,” she recalls.

“I rested, but it was still niggling and I had to pull out of another tournament in January (2019) and I couldn’t get the momentum going.

“I was taping it up, managed to get through some matches, won a 60k in April which was a really big tournament and I was pretty sure that would be in qualifying for Wimbledon, but then I strained my stomach.

“I came back for the grass-season but I properly strained my groin which took me out of singles at Wimbledon. I hoped to play doubles, but I had an MRI can which showed I had bruising on my pubic bone as well as the strain.”

Her season from there was essentially a write-off and the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic saw her plans for 2020 dismantle.

Katy focused on her rehabilitation, but when events were again scheduled she was hit with a quad problem and describes the following months into 2021 as “effectively snowball of injuries.”

That included the appearance of a shoulder problem which kept her out of the sport until her recent return.

“I was devastated and some periods were really, really hard.”

“There were times when I didn't really want to get up and at my worst I stayed in bed for three days,” she tells the WSA. “I wouldn’t speak to anyone and withdrew from my friends.

“The shoulder (problem) took me to some pretty low places and I would say I was depressed at periods and it was very tricky because I had an injury which should have been minor but it wasn’t getting any better.

“Every time I got close (to a comeback) it would start being painful and it was the worst because I was touching distance (from returning) and then it was taken away again.”

Katy admits she is “proud” of how she ultimately worked through this period of her life and made it back to the sport she loves.

“I'm quite mentally tough from having certain challenges and issues which are nothing to do with tennis,” she says, before pausing and then admitting; “It’s actually an eating disorder.

“I learned a lot of techniques for that and at a certain point I realised I needed to pull myself out of it and start doing the right things instead of going down a spiral.

“I’ve always had this inner belief that I’ll be okay, but for me, if I don’t voice it then I’ll keep drowning, so opening up and admitting I needed help was an important step.”

Comebacks, coaching and cash

Katy is now back playing and rounded off 2022 with successive Women’s Tour W15 titles in Egypt. Those victories boosted her moral and provided a timely boost to her finances.

“I'm smart with my money,” she insists. “I have these little tricks like using apps with offers, so I never pay full-price when I go out.

“Also, when I did have my really good year (in 2018) and now as well, I save a lot for a backup situation, which has kept me going, but it’s an expensive sport.”

Katy, who also runs coaching sessions for youngsters, hopes to attracts new sponsors and backers as well though – stating it would enhance her prospects of attaining career-best form.

“More support would mean I could look at getting a coach for all my sessions rather than just for tournaments like I have now,” she states. “I’m making it work, but it would help so much.

“I'm using this year to half my ranking and I’d like to be inside the top 300 by the end. I will chase dreams, but I want my goals to be as realistic as possible, which I think that is.

“I know I can make the Aussie Open qualifying tournament for 2024 and long-term, yeah, I’d love to go back (to Wimbledon), but without putting too much pressure on myself.

“In my head, I know that I’ll be back there (one day), it’s just a question of when. It was an incredible feeling and I really want that again.”

Katy Dunne at Wimbledon


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