Kenyan Okutoyi is not giving up on her Olympic tennis dream

Kenyan tennis player Angela Okutoyi says she has not given up hope of playing in the Paris Olympics, which would fulfill a “childhood dream”.

Despite winning the 2023 African Games title in Accra in March, the 20-year-old fell short of the required top-400 world ranking she needed to achieve by June 10 to secure a place at the Olympics .

She was ranked 503rd in the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) rankings at the end and has risen seven places since then.

Okutoyi’s team has appealed to the International Tennis Federation (ITF), claiming that because the African Games were postponed by seven months, she did not have enough time to gain the ranking points she needed to meet the qualification criteria.

As they wait for the decision, Okutoyi told the BBC what participating in the Olympics would mean to her.

“That’s always been my childhood dream, just to see myself at the Olympics, to be an Olympian and come out with some silverware,” she told Sportshour on the BBC World Service.

“I would say the Olympics are a huge event, bigger than the Grand Slams. It’s so big.”

Okutoyi’s call to the ITF comes after two high-profile women’s players withdrew from the Games over concerns about their workload.

Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur, world number 10, and world number three Aryna Sabalenka will not compete in Paris to prioritize their health.

The BBC has contacted the ITF to see when a decision will be made on Okutoyi’s appeal, but until an announcement is made, she still dreams of working with some of the world’s greatest athletes on the Olympics.

“It’s just a unique event where you travel with your teammates and are surrounded by the greats from every other field,” Okutoyi said.

“That’s something you never get to see or be near. “So I would just love to see myself at the Olympics and representing my country.”

From humble beginnings to Wimbledon champion

Okutoyi made headlines when she won the 2022 girls’ doubles title at Wimbledon with her Dutch partner Rose Marie Nijkamp, ​​becoming the first Kenyan to become a Grand Slam champion.

She has proven to be an inspiration to athletes across the continent, not only for her achievements on the field, but also for her struggles off it. Okutoyi and her sister Rosie started life in an orphanage and were raised by their grandmother Mary. She adopted them after their mother died during childbirth. “My life growing up was not easy,” she said.

“I come from a humble background and we didn’t have much. Some days I trained without eating and only drank a cup of water in the evening.

“My grandmother didn’t have much, but she wanted to take care of us. She loved us. She worked as a cleaner at the school, that’s where we lived.

“She had to take care of five children and she didn’t earn that much. But she had to take care of all of us, pay our school fees, feed us, all that.

“And it would mean a lot to my grandmother to see me at the Olympics.”

Tennis ‘not just for the rich’

Okutoyi hopes that if her appeal to the ITF is successful, playing in the Olympics will show that tennis is a sport for everyone, not just the elite.

“It’s going to change people’s perspective that tennis is for the rich,” she said.

“I don’t have that background and I can play at the highest level and (possibly) be at the Olympics.

“I am always happy to inspire the young children. Because when you come to Kenya now and see the children playing, there are people who have no money, and that’s just nice to see.

“People from humble backgrounds want to do it and know it will take them somewhere.

“They see me play and wherever it takes me, it motivates them.”