Pain can't cramp Ethan's style

Ethan Lye playing for Singapore at the Asia Oceania Junior Davis Cup under-16 tournament in India in March. Yesterday, he beat top seed Campbell Salmon for the New South Wales Junior International crown.
Ethan Lye playing for Singapore at the Asia Oceania Junior Davis Cup under-16 tournament in India in March. Yesterday, he beat top seed Campbell Salmon for the New South Wales Junior International crown.PHOTO COURTESY OF MALCOLM TAY

Despite thumb injury, unseeded local junior beats higher-ranked rivals for NSW title

Dealing with pressure during a competition final is a tough enough challenge for any athlete.

Sydney-based Singaporean Ethan Lye had to cope with that - in addition to a cramped thumb - as he fought Australian top seed Campbell Salmon for the New South Wales Junior International title yesterday.

The 15-year-old even won a 40-shot rally to earn match point, before closing out the contest with an ace in his 6-4, 1-6, 6-3 win at the Sydney Olympic Park Tennis Centre.

"It was a tough problem," said the right-handed player, who was cheered on by more than 50 schoolmates and teachers.

"I was trying to get every ball in, playing with two fingers at that point. I hustled every ball down and he eventually missed. I dealt with the cramps really well and dug deep today."

The No. 1,298 junior can also be proud of the way he went about capturing his first Junior International Tennis Federation title.

WHAT CAN'T BE TAUGHT

Everything in tennis is mental. There are players who are tall, short, but what sets them apart is the mindset. You can always work and improve.

LUKE BOURGEOIS, Ethan Lye's Australian coach, on his belief and attitude.

The unseeded player took down Australian fifth seed Josh Laka (No. 954) in the first round, as well as Australian Stefan Storch (No. 534) in the semi-final before beating No. 193 Salmon.

Said Ethan: "I've been playing some good tennis. This is really good to see where I'm at. I think I'm right up there with those guys. I just need to believe and this tournament is helping me do that.

"I was pretty surprised (by) all the wins, but my coaches didn't (think) so. They feel that I've been putting in a lot of work."

Ethan had initially been destined to train in the United States, but he and his family moved to Sydney in September 2014 after he secured a three-year partial scholarship at the Voyager Tennis Academy, which runs one of the largest player development programmes in Australia.

The academy has a tie-up with McDonald College, where Ethan is a Year 10 student. The college is a co-educational institution where students set aside two hours a day for performance training in addition to normal academic studies.

When the performing arts students go to their classes, the tennis students train at Sydney Olympic Park in Homebush, which is a five-minute drive from the school.

Ethan is trained by Australian coach Luke Bourgeois and hits the court and gym for up to 15 hours weekly.

Said Ethan: "We can't know whether Australia is turning out to be the better choice since we haven't been to the US.

"But it's been a really good opportunity to train in Australia and I'm happy with my school and social life, and coaches."

While he will face his next challenge soon - the Sept 24-28 Canberra Junior International - the Roger Federer fan has set his sights on entering Grand Slam tournaments.

"Everything in tennis is mental. There are players who are tall, short, but what sets them apart is the mindset. You can always work and improve," said Bourgeois, who was a practice partner with Federer for two years.

"Ethan has a lot of talent, the mindset and belief. He likes competition and training to improve the areas needed to become a world-class player."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 23, 2017, with the headline 'Pain can't cramp Ethan's style'. Print Edition | Subscribe