SINGAPORE - With each match the tension continued to build at the National School Games (NSG) B Division boys' tennis final on Wednesday (April 13), and all eyes turned to the final game still in action after Chua Min Jie of Anglo-Chinese School (Independent) won his match to level the overall score at 2-2.
ACS (I) captain Charles Yong and Brandon Ho were still locked in fierce battle with Raffles Institution's (RI) Evan Yeo and Ishan Sinha, having clawed back from 3-0 down in the last set to lead 4-3.
As players and teachers from both schools gathered outside the Physical, Sports and Outdoor Education Branch courts along Evans Road, the ACS (I) pair realised that the fate of their team rested on their shoulders.
But they did not let the pressure get to them, keeping their cool while forcing several errors from their opponents to win 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 and help their school retain the B Division title.
Brandon, 15, a Year 4 student, said: "The whole match was an emotional roller-coaster. There were many ups and downs so it was important for us to keep our focus.
"It wasn't so much a physical game anymore but a mental game. I did feel a bit of pressure when people started coming but we told ourselves to relax, keep calm and play as though no one was there."
RI had taken the lead with Owen Lien cruising to a 6-2, 6-0 victory over Issac Ding before ACS(I) pulled one back through Xavier Tay, who beat Tng Shih Chun 6-1, 6-3.
The Rafflesians regained the lead after Kaleb Khoo and Brandon Lim beat Ethan Lee and Prai Phusangmook 6-3, 6-4. Min Jie levelled the score again with a 6-3, 6-4 win over David Yong, before Charles and Brandon clinched the decider and the victory.
Despite the narrow loss, RI captain Kaleb, 15, was proud of his teammates for not giving up, adding that the season was still a special and unforgettable one for him as his team shared a closer bond.
Evan, 14, added: "We put in a lot of effort and unfortunately it wasn't enough to beat ACS(I) but the results doesn't reflect how much work we put in. We tried our best and we'll do better in the future."
In the girls' final at the Kallang Tennis Centre, Raffles Girls' School (Secondary) comfortably beat defending champions Singapore Chinese Girls' School (SCGS) 5-0 to win their first title since 2017.
Captain Sofia-Jane Wong said: "We worked really hard to get here and I'm happy that it has paid off.
"During the pandemic... Even though they didn't get to hit much, when we came back to training, they actually improved although we didn't train together so I'm happy that we took the initiative to train hard."
Teammate Joanna Hee, 14, was pleased to finally represent her school in the NSG after missing out on the C Division competition the last two years.
Hee drew first blood in the finals, beating Elizabeth Leo 6-0, 6-1, before doubles pair Kaira Tan and Kayleigh Lim doubled their lead with a 6-1, 6-1 victory over Lorraine Ng and Jaelyn Lee.
Krystal Lim and Sarah-Anne Wong then secured the title with a 6-1, 6-1 win over Erica Lim and Natalie Tan, before Sofia-Jane beat Summer Lee 6-2, 7-5. Abigail Christa Elham then completed the sweep with a 6-3, 1-6, 6-3 win over SCGS captain Lee Yenn.
Although Lee Yenn, 16, was disappointed with the result, she paid tribute to her teammates for putting up a good fight.
The Secondary 4 student, who was part of the 2021 team who won SCGS' first title after 21 years, added: "My time in SC tennis is a special memory to me. This year, we had strong team spirit and that's what got us so far."
While spectators were not allowed into the venues, that did not stop parents from turning up with foldable chairs and umbrellas to watch the action from outside the venue.
One of them was Abigail's father Wijaya, who took the day off from his job at a bank to watch his 14-year-old daughter compete in her first NSG.
Wijaya, 46, who came with his wife, said: "We wanted to come because we knew that it's something important to her and she would want us to be there for her.
"It was nerve-racking watching her, but I felt like I was in the fight with her and going through the highs and lows together."