Many people took advantage of the Corona lockdowns to learn new skills in their unexpected free time. But few chose to leave the world of professional sports behind to pursue a new career.
For Gabriella Taylor, 2020 was a turning point in more ways than one, as the former British tennis player decided it was time to retire from the sport that had been her life for 18 years.
No longer was Taylor spending hours each day getting results on the court, instead spending that time producing results on canvas as painting became her new passion.
“I still wonder how I got into this and where I am now,” the 23-year-old told BBC South Today.
“I figured I’d just start painting and do a few pieces here and there.
“But then I had the idea that maybe I could make a small business out of it, with a portion of the profits going to animal welfare organizations.”
Taylor is keen to give back some of her newfound skills, having received the emotional and mental support she received around the same time she put down her tennis racquet and picked up her brushes.
In the months leading up to her decision to retire from tennis, she had been overcome by severe anxiety and panic attacks.
She spoke openly about the detrimental effects they were having on their well-being during the first few months of the pandemic, before finally deciding to do so Step away from the tour in December 2020.
“I was actually suffering for a couple of years and hadn’t realized it,” Taylor said.
“When the pandemic hit, it was a real mental struggle for me, as it is for a lot of people.
“When I first stopped playing it was really hard to know what to do, but slowly I got a lot of help and support from family, friends, my team and the LTA, for which I’m totally grateful.”
“A difficult place to be alone”
Taylor credits the likes of Naomi Osaka Highlighting the pressure in elite tennis and why players need to take care of their sanity as best they can.
“Naomi really paved the way,” added Taylor. “It’s a very lonely sport and if you don’t have the right team environment around you, it’s very difficult to be alone.
“I would definitely advise players to get the right help and be open about how they are feeling. Mental health is a top priority for every sport and every individual, which I’ve learned a lot over the years.”
Southampton-born Taylor achieved her highest singles ranking of 162 in late 2018, the year she was also selected for the British Fed Cup squad alongside Johanna Konta, Heather Watson and Anna Smith for a tie in Japan.
But her promising junior career was overshadowed by her an alleged poisoning incident In 2016 she reached the quarterfinals in the girls’ singles at Wimbledon.
Taylor spent four days in intensive care after retiring during her game against Kayla Day of the United States. After being diagnosed with leptospirosis – also known as Weil’s disease – which can be transmitted through rat urine, Scotland Yard led the police investigation with the support of the LTA.
But as Taylor spent the following months recovering in Spain, no evidence of intentional poisoning was uncovered and the case was closed.
After a difficult few years on and off the pitch, 2020 has proven to be “game changing,” according to Taylor.
As her small home studio fills with more paintings each week, she juggles completing private commissions with a degree in advertising from the University of the Arts London.
“I’ve got a lot going on, but I’m really enjoying life right now and I’m really grateful for the opportunities,” Taylor said. “It wouldn’t have even crossed my mind to do what I am now so recently.
“A couple of my paintings have been put up in a gallery in Winchester which has made me super happy and also very exciting.
“It was a great experience and changed my life. I’m still learning the basics and trying to find my artistic style as it takes a lot of patience to build your skills.”
Gabriella Taylor spoke to BBC South Today’s Andrew Moon.