Former British number two female tennis player Amanda Janes on Wimbledon, the cost of pursuing dreams and family life
PUBLISHED: 12:13 28 June 2015
Today, she juggles work and her two young children, but at one stage Amanda Janes, the daughter of a Wimbledon finalist, was ranked women’s number two in Britain for tennis.
Life may have changed, but she still loves the game. Steven Russell met her on court.
Growing up, Amanda Janes kept telling her brothers she was going to become an honorary member of the All England Club − because that was one of the perks of winning Wimbledon, and winning at SW19 was her dream.
“And they’d say ‘The only way you’re going to get to Wimbledon is by being a ballgirl!’” she laughs.
She might not have reached the giddy heights to which she aspired, but Amanda did rather more than retrieving balls.
She left school at 16 and stepped onto the tennis treadmill. Her first professional tournament was in Portugal.
A rather unprepossessing tournament, truth be told. For someone with a weaker backbone, it might have proved their first and last professional sortie. But, 20-odd years on, Amanda nominates it her best tennis memory. “There was open qualifying, which meant there could be 120 players competing for four or eight spots in the main draw. The hotel wasn’t that nice, the balls were awful, the weather wasn’t great. Only if you got to the main draw were there (ranking) points, and then only 0.5 or something.
“It could have been the kind of thing that was overwhelming – all these girls playing – and put me off. But, actually, I just thought it was great, and I came back thinking ‘This is definitely what I want to do.’ So that’s my best memory, because it set me on the road.”
She had two spells on tour, bookending university at Cambridge, where she took a degree in English.
Statistically, she rose to 207 in the world rankings towards the end of her career and could have climbed further had some of those “ifs” and “buts” that make sport so dramatic gone her way.
That was really the last hurrah. Amanda, had always wanted to break into the top 100, but it was a step too far, really. “I think you reach a point where you realise that’s not going to happen.
“I felt I’d done all I could. I could have banged on, possibly, for another few years. I think financially it would have been difficult to carry on.
“I’m not sure I really wanted to at that level, when you’re talking about the tournaments you’re playing. I’d rather lost the drive a bit. When you’ve given your all for a certain period, you’re ready to move on.”
Amanda married in 2005 − the reception held at the All England Club! − and in 2008 had son Barnaby, followed by Alice, now five. Life had moved on. The 37-year-old doesn’t have regrets.
And how can you, when you’ve graced Wimbledon and during your career played opponents such as Amelie Mauresmo?
Wimbledon had been part of Amanda’s life since the age of eight. She’d go with her mum, there on radio duty with the BBC, and later competed at SW19. So, now the 2015 Championships are here, does she still get a little shiver of anticipation as opening day draws near? A little wistful about what was and what could have been?
“I do, actually. I think it’s to do with the time of year when the grass is starting to be cut – that smell – and because I spent a lot of years getting ready for Wimbledon,” she says, minutes after giving a coaching session at the David Lloyd sports club in Ipswich, where she works.
“I have a running joke with one of my groups that in January and February we’re getting ready for Wimbledon! That was always my mentality: thinking ahead and getting ready for Wimbledon. And then it gets to April and May, with all the lead-up tournaments.
“It was such a part of my life for so long, and I lived in Wimbledon for about six years, that you can’t help but think about it.”
Born in January, 1978, Amanda was the youngest of Christine and Gerry Janes’s four children.
As Christine Truman, her mother had won the French Championship in 1959 and reached the Wimbledon final in 1961.
“I think people think we all (she and her siblings) played from the year dot. It wasn’t like that at all. I was able, obviously, to do it. I know when I was four, and used to bat about a little bit after playschool, my mother brought a coach down to watch me, because she thought I could play.
“But family life was very busy. It was never ‘This is tennis. This is what you do!’ We did many sports, until I was about 14. I played county hockey; I did school netball.
“It’s good to do other sports – and team sports. Tennis is so gladiatorial, so one-on-one, that you can get too intense too early. So I think she got the balance right.”
From eight, Amanda would go to Wimbledon each summer, hanging out in the commentators’ off-air area. “For me, as a child who loved tennis more than anything else, it was wonderful. I can remember Fred Perry putting his head round the door and he’d say to me ‘How is your slider?’ Because he was also a leftie. (The slider is a left-handed serve.) It was massively inspiring, and I realise I was incredibly lucky.
“My mother would know all these people and they’d ask ‘And how is your tennis, Amanda?’ I look back and realise that was rather special. It was always a fun thing; and if it was ‘Rod’, it would be Rod Laver.”
The family came up to Suffolk in the holidays, where they had a cottage in Aldeburgh. She’d play the annual events at Felixstowe and Framlingham, Frinton and Bury St Edmunds.
Christine certainly wasn’t pushy, but how was it having a mum who certainly knew her way around a tennis court?
“I wanted to do it, but, like any teenager, I thought I knew it all, and we’d have our moments when we clashed. So it wasn’t all ‘happy happy’.
“There were times when I’d lose and she would have to say – because she was always completely honest with me – ‘Well, you didn’t do der-der-der-der-der’.
“I think at those times it is difficult being a parent and a child, but at the same time I was really lucky because David Lloyd Chigwell – which is near where I lived – came along and that had loads of good coaches. She was always very much someone who would say ‘Go and do a session with so and so, and listen to what they have to say’. She was very keen for me to have input so it wasn’t just her.
“Pete McNamara (one-time world number seven) lived in Harpenden and I used to go and hit with him.
“He was a massively motivating force. And then (former players) Tony Pickard talked to me about stuff, and Shirley Brasher, who was helping a lot of British girls.
“It could have all got too intense if it was just she and I” − mother and daughter − “but she was very much ‘Go and listen to what other people have to say and if you don’t think it works for you, don’t use it.’”
When did Amanda become fully aware of her mother’s achievements?
“Well, to be honest, I’m still learning about a few! If we’re watching something on TV, she’ll say ‘Was that the year I won the Swiss, the Italian and the French?’ or ‘Did I win the doubles somewhere?’
“There is still a sense that you don’t quite, sometimes, fully appreciate the whole (story), because she’s not someone who would say it.
“Sometimes it’s hard for me, and also generationally, to see how she was perceived in her time. It’s hard for we children, because we just see her as Mum!
“She did a lot of after-dinner speaking and I do remember, once, she couldn’t get a babysitter and had to take me along. I had to sit at the side and it was the first time I’d seen her speak in that formal setting. I thought ‘She’s quite good! She’s done a lot of things!’”
During her own career, Amanda chased titles and ranking points between the ages of 16 and 20, went to Cambridge, and then resumed her quest.
She had thought about teaching − did work in a boarding school for a short time, and had a place lined up to study for a teaching qualification − but there was unfinished business on the court.
“I did do better after university. I guess I better understood how to play: judging what’s the right thing to do at the right time of a match; not pressing at the wrong time. Just having a better overview.”
The tour wasn’t an easy life, though. News reports from late 2005, when Amanda spoke of retirement, cited the financial price of chasing dreams and glory.
A year of flights, hotel rooms, living expenses and so on accounted for more than £40,000.
Money borrowed from her dad and groom-to-be had helped keep the show on the road, it was reported, while at the time of Wimbledon (which brought an agonisingly-close defeat by Sesil Karatantcheva, 5-7, 7-6, 5-7) it was said she owed her mum £8,000.
It wasn’t fun having to rely on your family, and spend more time thinking about money than winning.
If you cracked the top 100, life got easier. “They pick you up from the airport; you get to stay in a hotel free; at the big tournaments you probably get paid a per diem.
“And if you’re British you probably get sponsorship. Everything snowballs.”
The tour brought challenges like plane delays and lost luggage, and lots of time hanging around at tournaments.
She tells a story about being wiped out in Poland, in an industrial town with not much going on, after suffering food poisoning.
“It’s not a hardship, but in some ways it can be tough,” she says of the life she chose and, usually, enjoyed.
Amanda’s lived in Suffolk for nearly four years now, having moved up from Wimbledon, and has worked part-time at David Lloyd for about 12 months.
She keeps a keen eye on the professional game and how it’s evolving, though there’s not much spare time beyond work and children. “The days just fly,” she laughs.
Are her youngsters keen? “I take them out on court; I reckon we last about 15 or 20 minutes,” she smiles. “They might hit a few; they might not hit a few. What they like me to do is hit the ball up as high as I possibly can and then see if they can hit it when it comes down!”
She thinks there’s some interest in the sport, but she’s not going to force it by becoming a pushy parent.
“I would love them to want to play. You can play for years and years. And, if you move to a new town, you can pick up a racket and meet people. That’s a great thing.
“I’m not sure I’d want them to play professionally, to be honest with you, but just to hold their own would be nice.”
Speaking of the professional game, she doesn’t dwell on her own “what ifs”.
“You can’t have everything, can you? I’m so glad I had a family, and didn’t do the teaching. Life’s pretty good. I can’t complain!”