Angela Okutoyi has been the talk of the town since July 11th, 2022. The 18-year-old professional tennis player became the first Kenyan to win a Grand Slam match at Wimbledon. Playing alongside her Dutch partner Rose Marie Nijkamp, the duo recorded a 3-6, 6-4, and 11-9 win at the all-England Club.
Angela’s tennis journey has not been easy. The young player has endured hardships and trials from an early age.
Born in January 2004 at the Pumwani Maternity Hospital, Angela and her twin sister Roselida Asumwa never laid eyes on their mother, who died during their delivery. Their grandmother Mary Ndonda decided to raise them, and they all lived in a small single servant quarter house in Loreto Convent, where she works as a cook.
When the two sisters were young, their grandmother had initially decided to take them to an orphanage in Limuru. However, she decided to take them back seven months later due to concern about their welfare. The two were enrolled at the Mbagathi primary school once they reached the appropriate age to go to school.
Angela’s love for the game started when she was still very young. Joe Karanja, who had been hired as a coach for the Loreto Convent school, allowed her and her sister to train with the school team.
She was a six-year-old training with eight-year old’s, which meant that she had to put in the extra work. In an interview with the standard, Joe said, “When you are six and play with eight-year-olds, you’re lacking the physicality. Okutoyi didn’t have easy sessions with me. She was always in competition and always had to fight to win, so I think her mentality was suitable for tennis from the beginning,”
When she reached the age of nine, her potential had grown, and Joe decided to make arrangements for her to join the International Tennis Federation (ITF) Centre.
In 2014, at age ten, she joined the ITF East Africa Regional Centre in Burundi on a tennis scholarship. She then made her international debut at the East Africa zonal championships the same year and finished second.
In 2016, she returned to Kenya due to civil strife in Burundi and joined the ITF Training Centre at the Nairobi Club. To be able to build her skills, she put a pause on her education but picked it up with time. She enrolled in online classes at Penn Foster, which is an online program based in the United States, and Edoptions, a virtual form of learning.
Angela started gaining recognition in 2018 when she became the youngest player to win the Kenya Open. In 2021, she won the Africa Junior Championships, beating a top player named Aya El Aouni in Sousse, Tunisia.
In a tournament in January 2022, Okutoyi managed to win two matches at the Australia open championships in Melbourne. In the third round, however, she was defeated but still kept her head high. Her presence at the tournament marked Kenya’s first appearance after 16 years.
“To make history here in Melbourne has been very special,” Angela told itftennis.com. “I am happy that people in Kenya have been able to see that, and they, together with African players more generally, realize they have a chance to do the same. In Kenya, most people who play tennis are not well-off. Their families, like mine, don’t have much, and I want to encourage them and say that situation doesn’t mean they cannot reach here, and it doesn’t define them. It can actually give them a drive and a motivation to do good.”
Despite her wins, she has remained grounded and always gives credit to her grandmother and coach, Joe, who have always supported her. In an interview with BBC, she said that her grandmother is the one who drives her and seeing her happy makes her happy as well.
Okutoyi dedicated her recent win to Kenyans, stating that it showed the world that the country could produce world beaters in the sport. On July 11th, 2022, she landed at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, receiving a warm welcome. Dignitaries, traditional dancers, and her fellow Kenyans gathered at the airport, eager to see and congratulate her.
Her coach Thuku Roger, a former player, hopes that the Kenyan government and corporates will support her in the future following her win. “I hope that after all the congratulatory messages, people will support her push when she takes part in tournaments. As we speak, she is supported by volunteers, which is not ideal. She needs a full-time team working with her to harness her potential in her,” he told the Star.
Angela is now preparing for the US Open Tennis Championship, which will be held from August 29th to September 11th, 2022. The championship will be held at the UTSA Billie Jean King National Tennis Centre. She was also enlisted for the Womens’ Futures tournament in Tunisia and Egypt later this month.
Check out EDITORIAL: Angela Okutoyi needs corporate Kenya to thrive