Tropicana British Tour: Emily back on track

19th September 2006

Paddington Tropicana Tour winner Emily Webley-Smith says she is excited to be fully fit again after four years of on-off injury problems and three operations on her right ankle.

The 22-year-old, who with British No.1 Anne Keothavong is coached at the Queen’s Club by Colin Beecher, won her first title since her latest return to competitive play on Saturday.

The right-hander from Bristol warmed up for this week’s Nottingham $10,000 tournament by beating top seed Claire Peterzan 7-5, 6-3 in the final of the British Tour event in Paddington, west London. Ian Samuels outlasted Tom Burn in three sets to take the men’s trophy.

For Webley-Smith it was a welcome return to winning ways after nearly four years trying to fully recover from problems relating to her right ankle, which she broke back in 2002.

“Having earned nothing for the first seven months of the year, and having relied heavily on the support of my family, it’s going to take a lot more British Tours and wins at Satellite and Challenger level in this country before I can even begin to think about funding flights and expenses abroad,” Webley-Smith said.

I’m loving hitting tennis balls and I’m waking up every day excited to play.

  Emily Webley-Smith

The history of the injury and Webley-Smith’s battle to regain full fitness is not for the faint-hearted.

The problems began after breaking her ankle on court four years ago, which resulted in surgery to repair bone and ligament damage and nine months on the sidelines.

Although she returned to the tour, she needed a second operation in November 2003 to remove loose cartilage in the ankle.

Webley-Smith then enjoyed injury-free tennis for around two years and was able to demonstrate her potential, peaking at a career-high WTA ranking of No.262 in June 2005.

But while gently warming up on court in Puebla, Mexico in November last year she felt a sharp pain in the same ankle and instantly knew something wasn’t right.

After more time off, more scans and a brief, but unsuccessful, return in spring 2006, she underwent surgery for a third time in April this year when doctors drained fluid from the inside of the same ankle.

Her rehabilitation seemed to be going well when she was rocked by yet another setback - septicaemia (poisoning of the blood) which left her unable even to walk and which took another five weeks to recover from.

“My ankle was the size of a football,” she recalls.

“I remember the doctor trying to take my sock off and I was screaming. I was taking what they call an ‘elephant dose’ of antibiotics and the strongest painkillers they could give me.”

Webley-Smith says that period was harder to come to terms with than any of her three operations.

“I reached an all-time low in May this year both personally and professionally and hit rock bottom hard and stayed there for a while,” she admits.

“I was so down and kept questioning why everything had to go so very wrong at the same time. From a tennis point of view, each time you have a long lay-off from the game I think it’s that little bit harder to come back.

“Being a bit older you realise how valuable the time is you're missing and are more aware of what it’s going to take to get back to where you want to be.”

Webley-Smith was finally able to return to the tour – injury free – in August and in her second week back reached the last four of the Cumberland $10,000 event before travelling to Istanbul for another $10K ITF tournament where she made the last eight of the singles and won the doubles.

Ahead of this week’s Nottingham event, Webley-Smith says she is loving every minute of being back on a tennis court.

“I’m fully fit now – touch wood a hundred times!” she confirms. “I’ve worked incredibly hard over the last three months.

“I travelled to the US with Colin and Anne and was able to train and continue my re-hab over there which was such a beneficial trip.

“I’m loving hitting tennis balls and I’m waking up every day excited to play.

“I just want everything to be simple for me for a while – and for things to be on an even keel.”