Katie Swan opens up on her 12 months of turmoil and why she went public on seeing a psychologist
“I AVOIDED doing a lot of things because I was down and I didn’t feel I deserved to do nice things or be happy.”
For Katie Swan, 2018 was supposed to have been the best year of her career. On paper at least.
She teamed up with Argentine coach Diego Veronelli and seemingly put her injury problems behind her.
She won the ITF $25k challenger title in Monzon, Spain. And she earned her first main-draw victory at Wimbledon.
But for Katie Swan, 2018 ultimately turned into a living nightmare.
Surely 2019 simply had to be better. It couldn’t get any worse. But it didn’t get any better either.
Not until now.
Finally, Katie Swan is getting back to where she wants to be: enjoying tennis and happy again.
And, as she so bravely revealed on social media on the eve of the French Open, it is thanks to a psychologist.
Speaking to SunSport at the National Tennis Centre in Roehampton – where she is aiming to qualify for this year’s SW19 next week – she explained her painful story of the last 12 months.
Swan, 20, said: “The start of my year last year was going really well. I was with Diego in Spain and winning lots of matches.
“But one day Diego had a phone call from his wife saying that his five-year-old son had had a horrible accident and was in life-saving surgery.
“He had just been playing in his grandma’s house and his head went through a window. The glass had cut his throat. He was bleeding out.
“Luckily they managed to get him into surgery which saved his life. He was in a coma for ten days then made an amazing recovery.”
TIME OF TURMOIL
That was just the start of the turmoil.
The wife of Swan’s other coach, Julien Picot, was battling cancer and then Veronelli had his US visa revoked so Swan prepared for the US Open without them.
In New York, she suffered a stress reaction injury in her foot – the early stages of a stress fracture caused by overuse – but battled back to finish the year in China, where things took another turn for the worse.
Swan added: “The day before my first match, my boyfriend [fellow tennis player Joel Cannell] called. He was very out of sorts and I knew there was something wrong.
“A day later, he was in hospital diagnosed with malaria. He had just come back from Nigeria and wasn’t even conscious for two days. He had the worst strain of it which can be fatal if you don’t catch it early enough.
“I was so worried about him it was so hard to focus on tennis. Then we found out that Julien’s wife only had a couple of weeks left. She passed away at the end of November.
“We were just relieved the year was over and hoping for a better 2019. I almost expected it all to come a bit too easily. But at the second tournament of the year, I had a full back spasm. I was gutted.
“That was the start of losing confidence in myself, in my body. And over the next few months, I was winning matches here and there but I just didn’t feel myself, struggling in practices.
“I just wanted to be in my room when I wasn’t playing. I didn’t go to any of the players’ parties or anything. I felt really down and wanted to be at home.”
It was an awful lot for Swan, still a teenager until March, to have to deal with. Too much to deal with alone.
Swan, Britain’s youngest-ever Fed Cup player, told her mum she didn’t want to meet up with the team for April’s tie with Kazakhstan.
After being convinced to go and able to celebrate their promotion to World Group II, Swan knew she still needed to work on herself.
So she flew to the States to be with her family and her beloved dogs, one of which she is desperate to find a way to travel on tour with.
My main goal for every day was to be able to go to bed and feel proud of myself. That made a huge difference. I worked a lot on the mental side. It is amazing the difference I felt within days.
But heading back to Europe a week later, Swan believes, was too soon and then came more struggles and setbacks – she was scared of embarrassment at Roland Garros.
The British No5 had opened up to her family and coaches, but decided it was time to turn to a professional for help.
Swan added: “I spent a week with no racquets, with my family and my dogs. I expected just from going home that I would be magically cured, refreshed and ready to go.
“I started speaking to the psychologist. She said, ‘This week just do things that you want to do.’
“I felt like over the last six months, I’d missed a lot of things or I’d avoided doing a lot of things because I was down and I didn’t feel I deserved to do nice things or be happy in a weird way.
“One of the biggest changes she told me to make was turn every negative thought in my head into a positive one.
“My main goal for every day was to be able to go to bed and feel proud of myself. That made a huge difference.
“I worked a lot that week on the mental side. It is amazing the difference I felt within days. Once I got to Paris I was practising so well, the best I’ve ever played in my life.”
The positive effect finally led to Swan vulnerably opening up to the public through social media.
A bold move in the current climate with trolls pouncing on any signs of weakness like sharks detecting blood.
In the message, she wrote: “I have struggled a lot with my confidence on and off the court and also finding joy in what I’m doing for different reasons.
“I was so afraid of disappointing my family, team and all the people around supporting me and I lost a lot of belief in myself.
“Every match I lost I didn’t just feel like a worse tennis player, but also less of a person.
“I decided to keep most of these thoughts to myself because I didn’t want to be a burden for anyone and it’s also very hard to open up about this.
“I now realise that this life of a tennis player isn’t about pleasing people or showing your worth to them, it’s about proving it to yourself.”
It is little surprise she posted seconds before her flight back to London took off.
But the posts were brilliantly – and rightly – supported with floods of messages pouring in.
Explaining the posts in further detail, she added: “It was the first time in ages where I actually felt really good about myself after losing.
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“I literally wrote the post in ten minutes because it was all ready to be said. I’ve never opened up like that before.
“I don’t think it’s right for people to feel like they have some kind of disease when they seek help.
“So I hope everyone understands that it is normal and me telling people how much it helped pushes them to speak to someone.”