Sarah Borwell: The Wimbledon star who shot up the doubles ranking, now giving back
Cast your mind back to the Summer of 2006 - Nelly Furtado was riding at Number 1 in the UK Charts with Maneater, England were playing in the world cup & Instagram would have sounded more like a petrol station.
Amelie Mauresmo captured the Ladies Singles title that year, but it was British players Melanie South and Sarah Borwell who made waves on the first couple of days with their plucky three set victories in Round 1. In a time when there wasn’t much to shout about in ladies’ tennis in the UK - Borwell grafted out a gutsy win over Polish star, Marta Domachowska. I chatted to Sarah about her tennis journey, and how she ended up competing the Ladies Singles and Doubles at SW19.
Borwell had humble tennis beginnings at her local centre in Teesside, “there was a brand new centre, with good coaches and players (…) but growing up I was never one of the top, top UK juniors.” She mentioned anxiety at competing and the pressure – but enjoyed the social side which tennis brings. “It kept me going.”
With not having wild dreams of being a professional player, it was suggested that Sarah perhaps go to the USA to continue education and her tennis – where she attended the University of Houston and was ranked in the Top 10 in the college system.
It was during her time in the States where she was approached about the possibility of receiving a Wimbledon Wildcard in the doubles – alongside fellow Brit, Jane O’Donoghue in 2003. They would lose that match – but it gave her a taste of tennis at its highest, brutal level and she wanted more.
Sarah graduated and pursued life on the professional tour – I asked her if at the start, it was as tough and as gritty as bystanders, anticipate of the lowest events in professional tennis. “Actually no, I really enjoyed it - I travelled with a group of college tennis friends – it became a family (…) I was doing well each week and made the Top 300 in Singles quite quickly.”
I asked if there was a changing moment at the start of her career – she mentioned the WTA event in Birmingham in 2006 – a 1st round match against young Brit, Melanie South – with a Wildcard on the line for Wimbledon. "I won 6-4 in the third, but it was a very nervy match.” Both, Borwell and South were awarded Wildcards into the Maindraw.
Wimbledon 2006 was the make or break for Sarah – she had gotten into debts due to the cost of the tour and needed the prize money – with a winnable first round draw against Domachowska, I asked if she was nervous. “Not really – I knew what I had to do”. In front of a home crowd and a dearth of British victories – she captured it in 3 sets and faced Ana Ivanovic in round 2. “Everyone wanted to interview me, it was an exciting week.”
The match against the Future World Number 1, Ivanovic came and went – but Borwell’s succession up the rankings continued. Despite a 6 month lay-off after an injury at the US Open, Sarah began to hone in on her doubles ranking. It was renowned doubles tutor, Louis Cayer, who spotted her skills and they began to work together.
From there, Sarah had great success on both the ITF circuits, WTA tour and Fed Cup team for GB- pairing up with Anne Keothavong. She competed comfortably at the top events scoring doubles wins over stars such as Caroline Wozniacki, Julia Goerges, Andrea Petkovic and Lisa Raymond. Sarah reached a Career high of 65 in the world, capturing 8 ITF titles and a Bronze at the Commonwealth games
An unfortunate head injury at a WTA event in Stanford, USA – halted her progress and by then she had already set her sights on ventures outside the tour.
Her passion for tennis shines through – and Borwell is very proud of the Tennis Smart organisation she runs, specialising in recruiting and helping British players get over to the US tennis college system. She advises for parents and keen players – to “reach out as soon as possible (…) sorting out your academic requirements is really important,” – as well as continuing to compete.
There has always been a relatively high drop-out rate of talented juniors and professionals in the UK, but we are glad that people like Sarah stay in the sport.
For those interested in finding out more about applying to College in the United States, please check out Sarah’s company - https://tennissmart.net/
Follow Sarah on Instagram @sarahborwell