Anne Keothavong eyes place in GB team at 2012 Olympics

By David OrnsteinBBC Sport
Anne Keothavong
Keothavong reached a career-high ranking of 48 in February 2009

Anne Keothavong says the possibility of representing Great Britain at the 2012 Olympics quashed thoughts of retirement and inspired her fine end to the year.

The British number two finished 2011 ranked 73rd in the world after winning 16 of her last 17 matches, lifting two ITF titles and reaching a WTA semi.

"I'm desperate to be on the Olympic team and would have regretted it had I quit," the 28-year-old told BBC Sport.

"I definitely think I'm playing as well as I ever have in my career."

With the Games taking place in Keothavong's home city of London, she describes the prospect of taking part as a "once-in-a-lifetime experience".

Olympic rules state 56 players qualify automatically via their WTA ranking and a further six courtesy of wildcards but, crucially, there is a limit of four entrants per nation.

That works against the likes of Russia, Czech Republic, Germany, Spain and France, all of whom have more than four players in and around the top 56, and favours the likes of Great Britain.

The Lawn Tennis Association is hopeful that Elena Baltacha (ranked 50th), Keothavong, Heather Watson (92) and Laura Robson (131) will all compete in the women's singles.

"I've never been part of an Olympics and for me it's a huge ambition," said Keothavong. "It would mean more than anything.

"In tennis we don't get to be part of a team too often and I want to be part of a team, representing Great Britain. I take a lot of pride in that; it would be the ultimate honour.

"I've grown up watching the Olympics, seeing all the athletes competing in all the different sports. With it being in London, I just can't explain how big that is. It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience."

Keothavong started the season impressively, coming through qualifying to make round two of the Australian Open, but that was followed by a bitterly disappointing sequence.

She managed only 13 victories in 21 tournaments including first-round exits at the and , with a second-round loss at Wimbledon in between.

However, since losing to Chanelle Scheepers at Flushing Meadows, the Londoner has experienced a remarkable upturn in results.

She took former world number one Jelena Jankovic to three sets at the WTA event in Linz, Austria, before outclassing 2008 French Open champion en route to the last four in Luxembourg.

Keothavong then returned to the ITF circuit, winning five matches in to secure her first singles title in three years, and following it up with victory in Ismaning, Germany.

"It's funny how quickly things can turn around," she said. "I didn't have a great summer, I was really deflated. But this run has brought a huge feeling of satisfaction and I'm really excited about 2012.

"I don't think there's one particular thing that has made the difference but I have been working hard with my coach Jeremy [Bates] on staying calmer in matches, keeping my mouth shut, not beating myself up when it's not going well and just getting on with it.

"I played well in Linz and that gave me a lot of confidence going into Luxembourg, Barnstaple and Germany. Even though I was tired, because I felt so good about my tennis it all came together."

Keothavong reached a career-high ranking of 48 in February 2009, only to suffer the second serious knee injury of her career later that year.

The right-hander was sidelined for six months and dropped well outside the top 100, but she battled back and is determined to reclaim the British number one spot from Baltacha.

"When I got injured I was at my peak," she explained. "It has been a real struggle returning to full fitness, but I definitely think I'm now back to my best.

"I was British number one before the injury and if I could get back up there it would mean a lot. I'm very determined to reclaim that position."

Keothavong admitted retirement had crossed her mind over the past couple of years, but any such ideas have since been cast aside.

"If I'm still playing well and I'm up there in the rankings then I might be tempted to just keep going after the Olympics," she added.

"In women's tennis you're seeing girls in their late 20s and early 30s playing the best tennis of their careers. Look at Francesca Schiavone and Li Na. They're both older than me and have become first-time Grand Slam champions in the last two seasons.

"It's definitely a sport where women can play for longer now. I have no idea how long I will go on for but at the moment I'm still loving it."