By Carys Jones
Millie Rajecki and I went to school together for five years and while I knew about her tennis in that I knew to call out “she’s at a tennis tournament” to teachers when she didn’t answer her name on the register, I never really took the time to listen to her talk about it for very long.
Millie has been playing tennis as long as she can remember. Her parents took her to Tots Tennis at the age of three, where she learnt the basics.
Until she was 13, she was in the academy where she took lessons and had squad training at Nottingham Tennis Centre. She then moved to West Bridgford, winning her first national a year later.
She cites this as being a turning point in her skills. Her new coach meaning she could improve massively. Two years later, at the age of 16, she was chosen to represent Great Britain in Russia in the European Cup, as well as the World Cup, which was in Newcastle.
Now, she is number two in her age division nationally.
She talks about a girl named Anna who she grew up playing tennis alongside.
Millie said: “We’re both in Nottingham and we used to train together. I never beat her and it seemed like I never would.
“Then when I was 12 I did and my mum said I came out the little door and I was like ‘I’ve won’ and I wouldn’t stop smiling for ages.”
Most weekends she takes part in some sort of tournament, routinely winning hundreds of pounds.
As we are talking, she stops and rolls her eyes slightly, smiling as she realises what the noise is that’s coming from the next room.
“My parents are watching me play a match” she says, explaining that last weekend she won a British tour in Billesley. “They videoed the final.”
I ask why she plays tennis, a question which always provokes an interesting answer when someone has, like Millie, one hobby into which they put all of their energy.
Her face narrows slightly and she smiles at herself, almost mockingly, as she realises what she is about to say.
“It’s how I can, what’s the word, express myself,” she explains. “If I didn’t play tennis, I don’t know what I’d do.
“I get lots of opportunities and I try to make the most of them. I feel quite privileged to be on the tennis court, because I know quite a lot of people don’t get that chance”
As well as actually playing tennis, Millie surrounds herself with the sport, teaching lessons to young children and following professionals like Serena Williams religiously.
One thing I do remember about her tennis was that Millie always seemed to either have County Cup on, or be talking about memories from the last one and she tells me that she has one coming up in three weeks.
I ask why she enjoys them so much.
She said: “Obviously you’re on court on your own, but you’ve got your whole team behind you. It’s just a really nice atmosphere.
“You get to see people who are at university now, lots of them are in America so I don’t see them for a whole year but at County Cup we’re together for five days.”
She hopes to make tennis her career and we talk about the practicalities of getting where she wants to be.
“It’s all about the money nowadays,” she said. “I already have funding from a charity, but obviously the charity needs to get money in order to give it to you.”
She doesn’t seem too fazed when she explains to me that if it doesn’t work out, which it may well not, the plan is to go to university in America, studying sports science or something similar.
Maybe it is because she isn’t fazed by the prospect of tennis not being her future job, or maybe she’s concentrating on what’s happening now.
Either way, Millie is one to watch for the future. The next Serena Williams I ask her before I leave. She laughs and gently kicks a tennis ball towards her dog.