What were you doing when you were 15-years-old? When I was 15, I wanted to become a professional tennis player but I wasn’t willing to be on the court 6 days a week, 2 hours each day, hitting serve after serve.
But for Annerly Poulos, she chooses to spend her spare time getting on the practice court with her coach Todd Larkham hitting ball after ball. The Canberra local was the best 14-year-old female tennis player in Asia last year but now she has her sights set on becoming the best in the world.
Annerly leaves school every afternoon and comes to the Canberra Tennis Centre at Lyenham to train all aspects of her game. A lot of her friends at school don’t realise what an effort she has to put in and what drives her to become the best but that doesn’t bother her.
Annerly was born in Canberra and picked up a racket at a young age.
“My older sister played tennis, so I followed her and I really liked it. I think I first started hitting a ball when I was three years old and then started playing competitions when I was seven.”
When Annerly was 10-years-old, she was selected into the Tennis ACT academy. To make the academy, you have to be top 10 Australia-wide in your birth year in the junior ranking system which is based on competition results. Her coach Todd Larkham is the head coach for the Academy and marvelled at the talent in his young pupil.
“It’s pretty hard to get into the academy, we only have three girls and one boy aged between 11 and 17 in the academy. Annerly got to a high level at a young age, there are not many ten-year-olds coming through the academy. It is quite rare. Usually 11 or 12 years old get selected but Annerly was very good for her age.”
To get to that level, Annnerly just hit ball after ball and trained every day after school and on the weekends with her mum.
“My mum used to play tennis when she was young so I used to go have hits with her. We went to the local tennis courts around us which were the Belconnen ones and sometimes we had a hit at Lyneham.”
As a 14-year-old, Annerly won the under 16 Tennis Australia’s December showdown, which gifted her an opportunity to play in the Junior Girls Australian Open.
“Before the first match, my goal was to just get through the first match and then keep going from there. I just wanted to do everything I can to be ready for that first match.”
Annerly went on to win her first match at the Australian Open 6-2, 7-6 against her Polish opposition Ania Hertel, who is two years her senior. She lost her second match against the fifth seed Naho Sato in straight sets.
Todd Larkham has a lot of experience in training up young Canberra potential, having been the coach for Nick Kyrgios when he was in the Academy.
“Nick was really good at a young age. He won the under-12 internationals, and he made the final under-16 nationals. Annerly was very similar because she won the under-12 internationals but won the under-16 nationals. So she is actually one better than Nick. They are tracking through their junior results in a very similar fashion. I do not want to put pressure on Annerly because Nick has pushed on and done really well and has had a really good pro career so far, but there is no reason why Annerly couldn’t do the same.”
For Annerly, being compared to Nick doesn’t affect her.
“I don’t really feel the pressure, I just try to do my best and try to get the best results and hopefully keep it going and do well in future tournaments, which will then lead to bigger tournaments and grand slams hopefully. So, for now, I’ll just play tournaments and hope for the best.”
“I just try to ignore it, because if all you are thinking about is the stuff that brings you pressure, it’s hard to do what you do, so I just have to think about other stuff and just keep going.”
Annerly’s idol is Serena Williams and she tries to emulate Serena’s trademark aggressiveness.
“My play is very aggressive and similar to hers and I like my forehand and my serve the most so I try to copy her aggressiveness.”
Larkham said that his pupil was the best in Asia last year but the challenge this year is staying the best.
“In the World Junior teens event last year, which is all the Asian countries, she didn’t lose a match as No. 1. She proved she was the best in Asia last year which was a really good effort and then we went to Europe and played the best 16 teams in the world. She won a few matches and lost a few matches and there were a couple of really good girls and one girl her age made the final in the 2017 US Open junior girls which is an under 18 tournament, which is good to see what the standard is overseas.”
Annerly remembers her name: Cori Gauff. “I played her in Czech and it was a really good match but she was just too good, so of course I would remember her.”
Larkham will take her overseas this year so she can continue to play against some of the best in the world.
“Annerly will have two trips overseas maybe three this year, so she will go to Asia in the junior Fed Cup in April, which is an under-16 event, so she will represent Australia. The top four out of 16 in the event will go to Europe to face the best teams there. If we get through, we will head to Europe around August. We will most likely head to Asia again in October so its a big year ahead.”
Annerly’s advice to any young girls out there wanting to become a professional athlete is to just keep training hard.
“Do the best you can in training and in tournaments and keep focused. Don’t get distracted by the things going on at school, but just keep your mind on what you love.”