The Fight of the 365 Tennis Season

Forget the glamour, it's a 365-day fight for survival. We meet Katie Swan, the British tennis ace rewriting the rules.

By Katie Swan

Photography By Joe Horton

Privilege and power, panama hats and Pimms; just some of the things we cast our minds to when thinking about everyone’s favourite sport of the summer. For players ranked outside of the top 100, the real game of tennis spans far beyond the glory of playing on crisp cut lawns and celebrating their wins with champagne. Life on the pro tours is a perpetual loop of training to get faster, better, stronger, playing to maintain a ranking, to win prize money, while juggling injuries, burnout, and earning enough to pay a team of coaches that’ll get you to the top spot.

Photographer, Joseph Horton, goes on a walk around South West London with Bristol’s best 25 year old tennis ace, Katie Swan, as she shares some of the positive movements driven by female challengers like Serena Williams. The British #11 not only showcases the grit required to compete at the highest level, but also the positive strides being made towards a more inclusive future for female athletes.

Joe: Do you ever feel like you’re restricted because of your sport?

Katie: 100%.

Joe: A lot of tennis players are contracted so that you can’t do certain things right?

Katie: Yes, in fact I had a really bad injury from a family holiday back when I was 16. We were tubing off the back of a boat and I ended up hitting the water so badly and misplacing four ribs. I still get severe back spasms and it’s a case of managing them really tactically so I can still play in the tournaments that’ll earn me prize money. It’s not been easy.

Joe: So you want to play injury-free, but if you come back too soon then you run the risk of getting injured again…? Sounds like a challenge…

Katie: I’ve worked really hard to create a team around me that I trust and help me make progress, but I know I’m probably never going to have a clean year without any issues. I know so many players of all different levels that are managing their injuries the best they can just so they can still play.

Joe: A whole year?! That’s a lot of pressure! Do you play all year? I know the season is really long?!

Katie: You could technically play all year round. There’s literally a tournament on Christmas Day… but I don’t think I’ll be going to India for Christmas (laughs).

Joe: It seems completely bonkers to be playing all the time…!

Katie: I’ve spoken to athletes in other sports like rugby, football, cricket… they’ll have pre season months where they know they’re not competing. Whereas for tennis, when you’re not competing, your competitors are out there earning points, getting into the larger tournaments and making money.

Joe: So if you start to miss games, you’re losing your ranking to those that are continuing to play?

Katie: Exactly. The difficult thing is, you’re only really making a living once you’re playing in Grand Slams. If you’re below that, you can’t retire and live off that. But to really level up, you have to invest financially- paying for our coaches, strength and conditioning coaches, physio’s, travel expenses… It’s a vicious cycle!

Joe: So you really rely on the results?

Katie: Oh yeah! It’s so difficult when you’re not competing because when you’re not competing, you’re not earning prize money. That’s why you rely on endorsement sponsors, but even to get them you need to have results.

Joe: We’ve been talking about the demanding length of the tennis season. Do you think players have any say in how things work?

Katie: I think the things that we can do as players is align as a collective and approach the WTA Player’s Council. Each category ranking has an area representative, so it would be for us to voice our challenges to them, for our representative to take them to the council meetings and have any impact.

Joe: So you kind of need to band together?

Katie: I think so! I don’t think one voice is enough to change something that big.

Joe: Sounds like you need a union!

Katie: I think if you asked most players, both boys and girls, I’m pretty sure if they were offered a set amount of time off per year, where no one could compete and you weren’t missing out on anything, most people would take it.


Joe: Is there any inkling that this might happen?

Katie: It’s tricky. There are so many big events that go throughout the year, at the end of the year, you have Davis Cup, and the Billie Jean King Cup finals, so those big events are being pushed right to the end. And then in December, the United Cup starts again. To change things they’d really have to manage the whole schedule differently which is massive. Sadly, if it were to change, it probably wouldn’t happen while I’m playing!

Joe: You recently talked about women’s health and about women in the sport having children… is there anything going on at the moment that you feel is affecting women, particularly in the sport?

Katie: Yeah, things are definitely changing for women. Because your ranking points get replaced every year, it poses a real threat to women going on maternity leave. For example when Serena took time out to have her baby in 2017, she went from being world number 1, and returned to the court eight months later ranked No.451. It prompted a huge conversation about the World Tennis Association’s policy around maternity leave.

Joe: So what’s the latest?

Katie: If you go on maternity leave you now get a protected ranking. It means you can play off your original ranking just before you stopped. They (the governing bodies) are doing a much better job now and I’m optimistic about the future. Things are definitely changing for women in the world of tennis!

Katie’s journey is a testament to the fact that it’s not just fresh tennis whites and the sweet taste of strawberries from the top of Henman Hill (or Murray Mound!). Her story is one of resilience and grit in the face of adversity, serving as a reminder of the human side of professional sports where athlete’s battle not only their opponents, but managing the mental and physical tribulations imposed by an unforgiving system.

And we will most certainly be rooting for this tennis talent this season…

Keep up to date with Katie Swan here
Photography and interview by Joeseph Horton

Share This Article

If you love this you’ll also love...

Wimbledon 2024

Whether you’re braving the queue, scoffing strawberries in the Royal Box or soaking up the atmosphere in the local pub, here’s a comprehensive guide to the leafy south west London suburb from a local!

By Natasha

That's Sew Nicole

From Baesianz FC to her star-studded dinner party line up… why is London-based artist Nicole Chui embroidering football jerseys?

By Glorious

She's An Icon

F1's veteran interviewer Martin Brundle encountered a true motorsports icon during a recent grid walk - Mary McGee. So who is this woman, and why did she leave even the smooth-talking Brundle speechless?

By Emily S

Beyond The Hype

From CDG x Salomon to Jacquemus x Nike, luxury fashion and sportswear collaborations are everywhere. We investigate the reasons behind this ever-booming trend.

By Harriet Miles