The journey that has taken Katie Malazonia from Tblisi to Paris has been long and not always especially comfortable yet it has brought the 12-year-old the chance of a lifetime.
Katie, from Handsworth, has been selected as the only UK representative to take part in the Longines Future Tennis Aces Competition at the world famous Roland Garros.
The tournament, which consists of 16 players chosen from around the world including tennis powerhouse nations like France, Spain and Russia, takes place at the French Open over the next three days.
And the St Paul’s School for Girls student could also win a sponsorship package until her 16th birthday as well as the chance to play in an exhibition match with the legendary Steffi Graf. All of which means today’s stroll on to the Parisian red clay will be one short-step for Katie but a giant leap for the Malazonia family.
But everyone who knows the talented tennis player says it is one she should take in her stride given the aplomb with which she has negotiated her emigration from her native Georgia.
Katie was just five when she came to the UK to join her parents, who were studying and working here, and faced her first day at St Augustine’s Catholic Primary unable to speak even a single word of English.
“Not even ‘hello’ or ‘goodbye’,” recalls her mother Lela who, even before the afternoon was out was called to the school to take her daughter home.
“It was very scary,” Katie says. “I kept pointing at my ear and faking ear-ache. But I settled down in a couple of weeks.”
In a couple of years she had mastered her new language and was showing equally promising signs on the tennis court. Within a month of being reunited with her parents Katie was taken to the Edgbaston Priory Club where she instantly showed promise.
Sufficiently so that her first coach even told her parents that the eager five-year-old would become ‘a very, very good player’.
Quite how good no-one yet knows. Katie is currently ranked No. 4 for her age group in the UK but has been as high as No. 1 in the seasonal standings.