Annabel Croft on Wimbledon, the world of TV and why she loves being a Surrey mum
Once again, Annabel Croft will be taking Wimbledon by storm this year, keeping Britain one step ahead of the action from the commentators' box for BBC TV and radio. But away from Centre Court, the Kingston-based tennis star enjoys nothing more than being a Surrey mum, as Liz Kavanagh discovers
Her heady days as a tennis star may now be over, but Wimbledon is still a highlight of the year for Surrey resident Annabel Croft.
Now a popular sports presenter, she will be commentating again on this year's championships for both BBC TV and radio, and says she loves the buzz that comes from being right at the centre of the action.
"I was extremely lucky that I was able to make the jump from the courts to television," says Annabel, who since retiring from tennis has worked on everything from the US Open to Eastbourne, presenting for Radio 5 live, Sky Sports and the BBC. "And, although I was a bag of nerves at the beginning, I love it now!"
High profile career
It's been over 20 years since she graced the courts at Wimbledon as a player - having emerged as a national champion at the age of 12, she got through the ranks of the national squad and won Junior Wimbledon in 1984.
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She went on to win the Virginia Slims of San Diego tournament in 1985, beating Wendy Turnbull in the final in straight sets, and achieved a world ranking of 21.
However, she says her fondest memories will always be playing on those hallowed grass courts here in her home county.
"When I was playing at Wimbledon, the competition was regarded as the pinnacle of the season," says Annabel.
"There's definitely something really special about being part of a great history of tennis."
Asked who she will be looking out for this year, Annabel cites Andy Murray as a serious contender for success.
"He'll have the crowd behind him, that's for sure," she says. "But, as always, all eyes will be on Federer and Nadal. I'll also be interested to see how British player Laura Robson gets on. She may well be a wildcard but I'm certain she'll provide an exciting game."
While Annabel regularly travels the world to report on the action of the next big tournament, her priority is always being a hands-on mum to Amber, 15, Charlie, 13, and Lily, 11, and home near Kingston is firmly where her heart is.
Network of mums
"When I'm at home, I'm Mum, and we do lots of things together," she says. "I'm very family-orientated and tend to socialise with non-tennis people mainly.
"Surrey is the perfect place to bring up children and I have a great network of mums around me, which makes the huge task of ferrying everyone around to things a lot easier. I live just outside Kingston and, even though we're so close to London, there's a very relaxed, friendly atmosphere here."
Married to former international yachtsman Mel Coleman, Annabel says it was inevitable that she would fall in love with the water too and the family are regularly to be found boating on the Thames.
"There's nothing that beats a picnic on the boat on a warm day," says Annabel," and in Surrey you're never far from the water, which is a huge bonus." The other big passion of her life is dancing. "I originally wanted to be a dancer," she says, "but the tennis took over. Whenever my schedule allows, I try to fit in a jazz lesson, which I really enjoy.
"Dancing is also brilliant for maintaining my fitness and keeping me supple and a lot more fun than pounding around in a gym."
Staying fit and healthy is something Annabel clearly takes very seriously and, since moving to Surrey in 2001, she has become increasingly interested in homeopathic medicine and now treats herself and her family almost entirely with natural remedies.
"I first got hooked when I was treated for an ovarian cyst with homeopathy and was so impressed with its holistic approach, and the fact that after months of pain my symptoms went away, that I started to use homeopathy for other ailments," she says.
"My husband is a big, strapping yachtsman who is rarely convinced by anything alternative, and although he thinks I can be a bit of white witch at times with my box of remedies, even he now admits they work.
"Being more aware of natural alternatives to conventional and mass-produced medicine has also made me more conscious of what I'm eating and, over the years, I've found that the attraction of junk food has really dwindled. We're pretty healthy as a family and feeding my children quality, wholesome food is important to me."
Still playing tennis
Annabel is still playing tennis of course, but now just for fun, and has recently set up the Annabel Croft Tennis Academy at the National Tennis Centre over in Roehampton, which encourages young players of all abilities to up their game and enjoy playing outside.
"Too many children learn to play indoors but getting out in to the fresh air adds a whole new dimension to the sport," she says.
"I want the Tennis Academy to be somewhere that children of all abilities can enjoy playing and get loads of encouragement along the way. At the moment, we only coach in London but I'm planning to open academies in several locations so children from other areas can benefit, too.
"My dream would be to have my own tennis club one day in Surrey," she adds. "I can't think of anything more rewarding than seeing local children share the passion that I had for the game when I first got hooked."
My favourite Surrey...
Restaurant: The Albany just outside Thames Ditton on Queens Road. It's a riverside pub with a great atmosphere and the menu has lots of homely, comfort food.
Shop: I'm a big fan of Fratelli's delicatessen on Park Road in Kingston. We're a foodie family and I always find something new there every time I visit. The bruschetta, Parma ham and roasted peppers are delicious.
View: I often go running in Richmond Park and the viewpoint there has an amazing outlook over the lakes. On a misty day, it's magical up there.
Place to chill: On the river. It's my special place and somewhere I always feel happy.
Place to visit: Hampton Court Palace has always been a real family favourite.