She signed for Strictly just weeks after her husband died of cancer, hoping it would bring some joy back into her life.
And over the course of the series Annabel Croft has wowed the judges with her dances, including a foxtrot, paso doble and samba.
Not only that but she said her Strictly partner Johannes Radebe has ‘given me a reason to get out of bed’.
Sadly, however, the tennis star’s impressive ballroom journey came to an end in the 12th week.
She missed out on a spot in next week’s final after being defeated in the dance-off by actor Bobby Brazier in what was one of the closest semi-finals in the show’s 19-year history.
After being eliminated, Annabel gushed: ‘It’s been the most life changing and extraordinary experience of my life’
Ms Croft, 57, and her three grown-up children were left devastated in May when her yachtsman husband Mel Coleman died of colon cancer
Ms Croft, 57, and her three grown-up children were left devastated in May when her yachtsman husband Mel Coleman died of colon cancer just 16 weeks after he was diagnosed.
Speaking after the show’s judges delivered their verdicts at the weekend, the emotional star, who was given the lowest score with 33 out of 40, said: ‘It’s been the most life-changing and extraordinary experience of my life.
‘Johannes, you have been absolutely extraordinary. You have given me a reason to get out of bed and come and dance with you, distract me and to heal me.
‘You have been so patient, so caring and so loving. You are an unbelievably special human being. I simply adore you.
‘I really want to thank Strictly for letting me take part in this competition. Thank you so much Johannes for the most special time I have had with you.’
South African dance sensation Radebe also paid tribute to Ms Croft, saying: ‘Thank you for making the decision to come here.
‘Thank you to Strictly Come Dancing for sending her my way. My life is richer with you in it. I hope we dance long after this has ended.’
Ms Croft and Radebe danced the Viennese waltz to Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want by Slow Moving Millie, with judge Craig Revel Horwood choosing to save them.
Annabel Croft was the tenth star to be eliminated from Strictly Come Dancing 2023 following Sunday’s dreaded dance off
Annabel and Johannes danced their Viennese Waltz to Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want by Slow Moving Millie
Annabel’s exit means that the 2023 finalists have been revealed as Bobby and Dianne, Ellie Leach and Vito Coppola and Layton Williams and Nikita Kuzmin
But Motsi Mabuse and Anton Du Beke saved Brazier, 20, and his partner Dianne Buswell. Head judge Shirley Ballas didn’t need to cast a vote but if she did, she would have also saved Brazier and Ms Buswell.
They will face actress Ellie Leach and theatre star Layton Williams and their respective partners Vito Coppola and Nikita Kuzmin in Saturday’s finale.
Strictly insiders expect it to be one of the closest finals ever, with Ms Leach currently the bookies’ favourite.
Annabel and Johannes narrowly missed on a place in the final, after facing Bobby Brazier in the dreaded dance off.
Annabel said: ‘It’s honestly been the most incredible rollercoaster ride. I’ve really had every type of emotion you could imagine. It’s the most magical show.’
Meanwhile Bobby and Dianne were filmed sobbing as they took to the floor for their final dance.
Fans were also left in floods of tears after Annabel’s emotional exit.
Emotional fans took to Twitter – with one even saying they had ‘never felt so sad’ over an elimination before
One said: ‘Never ever felt this sad over an elimination before, Annabel Croft was absolutely wonderful and gracious to follow in the last 2 months seeing her progression and determination.
‘She’s been an outstanding competitor and Johannes was the perfect partner for her.’
A second added: ‘Dammit why do Johannes and Annabel keep making us cry.’
A third said they were ‘blubbing’ as they watched the emotional semi-final result.
After Annabel ended up in the bottom two of the vote, she and Bobby performed their favourite routine of the night again for the judges.
First up, Bobby and his dance partner Dianne Buswell performed their Quickstep to Mack the Knife by Bobby Darin.
Then Annabel and Johannes danced their Viennese Waltz to Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want by Slow Moving Millie.
After both couples had danced a second time, the judges delivered their verdicts, with Craig Revel Horwood choosing to save Annabel and Johannes.
Bobby Brazier and Dianne Buswell (left) will now go through to next week’s final
Annabel and Johannes took to the stage to dance for the final time after narrowly missing out on a spot in the final
He said: ‘Well, one dance was flashy, one dance was quiet. I think both couples have equalised completely.
‘I saw improvement in this one couple and based on this dance and nothing in the past but this dance alone, the person which I think had the most exquisite technique is Annabel and Johannes.’
However, Motsi Mabuse chose to save Bobby and Dianne, saying: ‘Well, first of all I have to say this was a really tough one tonight, I think both couples danced really well, and after the dance off I stood there for a few seconds making my decision.
‘There was one dance where there was a slight hesitation at a turn, one slight hesitation was the decision, and I will be saving Bobby and Dianne.
Anton Du Beke also chose to save Bobby and Dianne, saying: ‘Well the semi-final, I mean it’s going to enormously disappointing for somebody, but I also think its celebration of how well you’ve both done and how far you’ve come and how wonderfully you’ve danced through the whole series.
‘It was a very close run thing and literally because of a coming out of a pivoting section wasn’t as clean as they would have liked and I would have liked, I’m going to be saving Bobby and Dianne.’
With two votes to Bobby and Dianne, and one to Annabel and Johannes it meant Head Judge Shirley Ballas had the casting vote, and she decided to save Bobby and Dianne.
She said: ‘The semi-final 2023, I thought both couples were absolutely extraordinary, I felt that both couples lifted their performance, I thought there was technical qualities on both sides, improvements galore, but again one tiny mistake coming out of a pivot turn and therefore my decision would be to save Bobby and Dianne.’
The former tennis star, 57, and her professional partner Johannes Radebe narrowly missed on a place in the final, after facing Bobby in the dreaded dance off
Annabel had performed both the salsa and a Viennese waltz during Saturday’s show, but found herself at the bottom of the leaderboard
Annabel then added: ‘It’s been the most incredible rollercoaster ride, I have had every single emotion you can imagine.
‘I really want to thank Strictly for letting me take part in this competition. Thank you to the judges, for your amazing comments and guiding us all along.
‘But I also see this as a one-thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle and I wish that everyone in the public could see what goes on behind the scenes because it’s quite extraordinary the machinery that makes it work and makes the show what it is.
‘The most wholesome family entertainment magical show with so much glitz and glamour and so much enjoyment for everybody.
‘It has been amazing and I can’t thank everyone enough. Thank you so much Johannes, for the most special time I have had with you.’
Annabel’s exit means that the 2023 finalists have been revealed as Bobby and Dianne, Ellie Leach and Vito Coppola and Layton Williams and Nikita Kuzmin.
Earlier on in the results show, the professional dancers put on a spectacular and festive group number.
They opened what is the final separate results show of the series – and were even joined at the end by a golden retriever called Mr Darcy.
They will take to the dancefloor next week for the final time as they bid to lift the Glitterball Trophy.
Strictly Come Dancing: The Final airs live on Saturday December 16 at 7pm, on BBC One and BBC iPlayer.
Take That took to the stage to perform in the results show
This post first appeared on Daily mail