British number seven Jodie Burrage is hoping 2021 will be her year after impressing during a stop-start year of tennis in 2020.
Burrage was one of British tennis’ strongest performers this year with the 21-year-old impressing on the International Tennis Federation (ITF) circuit and in various British events during lockdown, and perhaps had more reason than most to be frustrated at professional tennis’ enforced suspension.
Ankle injuries have blighted her career and an injury sustained at the ITF event in Surbiton last summer saw her out of the game for three months.
Burrage was in good form and had reached her career high of 233 in the WTA Rankings before that injury, which saw her miss the rest of the grass court summer in Britain.
She said: “It was a tough time to have the injury. I was having a good year.
“It wasn’t really a great half of the year after my ankle injury. I struggled to find my level and my confidence with moving. On the court I didn’t really trust myself that much and when you’re doubting yourself it’s not the best.
“My mindset totally changed going into 2020. I started working with my new coach David Felgate and we ran through what I wanted at the start of the year. I was a lot more positive with things. We had a really good pre-season.
“We tried to start with a clean slate for 2020 and that worked really well at the start.”
The 2020 season started brightly for her, reaching the final of a W15 event in Tunisia and the semifinal of a W25 event in Thailand, though like most professional sportspeople her season ground to a halt due to Covid-19.
With ITF events cancelled Burrage was holidaying with her boyfriend, rugby player Ben White, in Cornwall when the UK was placed in lockdown and ended up staying with his parents.
Though understandably frustrated at being unable to get onto court, she made the most of the situation handed to her.
She said: “It was tough and annoying for me as I had started to get my level back, but it was the same for everyone.
“My fitness trainer did an amazing job in setting a fitness plan. I really took the chance to work on my fitness. With my injuries I’ve always been playing catch up so it turned out to be a really good two or three months that I needed.
“It turned out to be quite an important period for me. It really helped me. I took advantage of it.”
As lockdown eased the LTA arranged several British tour events and Burrage was of the most successful players in those events, picking up an array of match wins and demonstrating some of the best form of her career.
She said: “I was honestly just raring to go. I’d much rather be playing matches so I was grateful that the LTA put those tournaments on.
“It was so good for me. Everything I had been working on came out to play in those matches and it all went right.
“I was so much quicker around the court and my endurance was a lot better, so I could get through long three-set matches.”
A particular highlight for her was the ‘Battle of the Brits’, organised by Jamie Murray and held at the National Tennis Centre in Roehampton, where she defeated British number one and former Grand Slam semifinalist Johanna Konta and played mixed doubles with Andy Murray.
She said: “I was so happy when Jamie messaged me asking if I wanted to play. I knew it would be a great event and it turned out to be an amazing one.
“I beat Jo on the first day which was very unexpected to be honest. It really showed me what I could do and what I could play like. It opened my eyes and opened a few other people’s eyes I think.
“To play a mixed match was exciting for me, but to play with Andy was really nerve wracking. I was very nervous beforehand.
“It was amazing to play with him. He was so good. He made it really fun even though we lost the match.
“I feel so lucky to have been able to play with him, and play against Joe Salisbury who is also an amazing player.”
Burrage believes the volume of matches played this summer were a key reason for her strong form when ITF events returned, reaching the final of a W25 event in Portugal and a further semi-final of a similar event in France.
She said: “They definitely helped so much. If I hadn’t played those 30 or 40 matches I definitely don’t think I would have been playing the past few months like I had been.
“The other week in Cherbourg was another positive week for me. It’s probably some of the best tennis I’ve played. I got a few really good wins.
Now ranked 260th in the world, Burrage has clear goals set for 2021.
“I want to get into Grand Slam qualies and I want to get my ranking up to top 200.
“That’s what I’m aiming for.”
Featured image credit: @p.robi_photos