Growing up in a house with four competitive brothers in the Canberra suburb of Farrah, it’s no wonder Annabel Ellwood is competitive.
Combine that thirst for competition with a tennis court in her backyard and it was the perfect mix for the makings of a tennis star.
“My oldest brother was very keen on tennis, and having a big family they thought we might as well build a tennis court where we could play there,” says Annabel.
“So I probably started [playing] when I was about seven or eight watching all my brothers and it just snowballed from there.”
It sure snowballed alright.
What began as local tournament dominance quickly rose to the national stage, and by her early teen years Annabel was playing against the best in the world in her age group.
At the age of 18, Annabel notched a round-one victory over future world number one Jennifer Capriati at the US Open. It rates as one of her finest memories from her tennis career.
“When I beat Jennifer Capriati at the US Open – and I don’t think I even played particularly well – it only really dawned on me when I got back to the hotel and flicked on the TV and ESPN had the news that Jennifer Capriati had lost,” she says.
“It wasn’t really that memorable on-court, but I do remember thinking, ‘I can’t believe I just did that.'”
Also ranking highly in Annabel’s career moments was an underdog Federation Open win against South Africa away from home.
Her singles peak came in 1997 when she was the number-one ranked Australian female and achieved her career-high WTA ranking of 57 in singles and 60 in doubles. This remains the highest world ranking from an ACT female player.
During Annabel’s tennis career she travelled all over the world playing the best of the best.
“At the time, I didn’t think I was very fortunate playing these players because I would’ve rather to have played them later in the draw, but I played Monica Seles first round of a French Open, and I played the Williams sisters in doubles and Serena Williams [in singles],” she says.
“That was two decades ago – it’s pretty incredible she’s still playing.”
Martina Hingis is another player who stands out for Annabel. The pair played against each other in their youth and later became doubles partners.
Annabel’s status as a champion of ACT tennis was etched in stone this week when she became only the 10th member of the ACT Tennis Walk of Fame.
She has joined Wally Masur, Keith Carnall, Ken Willis, Alison Ide, Ros Balodis, Thomas Charles Boag, Bruce Larkham, Peter Roberts and Graham Bartlett OAM in the Walk of Fame.
Recipients of the award are honoured through an inscribed paver at the Canberra Tennis Centre in Lyneham.
Annabel puts her successes down to the ample opportunities available for Australian tennis players, and in particular the opportunities in Canberra.
“Canberra is great because it’s so close to Sydney and you can get really good competition in Sydney without the hassle of getting around with the traffic,” she says.
“There are world-class facilities at Lyneham, and we’ve always had the AIS here which are also world-class.”
In recent times, Annabel has worked as a tennis coach at Radford College, as well as other private coaching roles. She emphasises the importance of participation and getting people to love playing the sport at whatever level they play.