Tennis academy earns applause

Emphasis on better structure and improved access to bring benefits to players at all levels

Eight-year-old Koh Wensyn learning to play mini tennis at yesterday's launch of the ActiveSG tennis academy at the Kallang Tennis Centre. The academy is the fourth introduced under the national movement for sport.
Eight-year-old Koh Wensyn learning to play mini tennis at yesterday's launch of the ActiveSG tennis academy at the Kallang Tennis Centre. The academy is the fourth introduced under the national movement for sport. ST PHOTO: MARCUS TAN

The road to easier access to sport for Singaporeans extended further yesterday, with the launch of the ActiveSG tennis academy, the fourth introduced under the national movement for sport.

But unlike the three sport academies that preceded it (football, athletics and basketball), this incorporates a high-performance component and will help prepare the Republic's best for tournaments like the Davis Cup, Fed Cup as well as major Games.

The academy is headed by technical director Robert Davis, an American with vast experience working in tennis in South-east Asia. He has picked some of the best regional players in recent years as the first batch of visiting coaches to work primarily with elite players.

This group includes Thailand's Danai Udomchoke, the 2006 Asian Games champion and former world No. 77, as well as 2009 SEA Games women's singles champion Lavinia Tanata of Indonesia. Thanakorn Srichaphan - older brother of former world No. 9 Paradorn - has also been pencilled in.

Already, the national players have been through several training camps, sparring with players like 2012 Wimbledon doubles champion Jonathan Marray of Britain and former world No. 8 doubles player Aisam Qureshi of Pakistan.

For those who were previously part of the Singapore Tennis Association (STA)'s full-time tennis programme for juniors and subsequently dropped out, this is a welcome change.

Said Joshua Liu, 19: "We've been waiting for something like this for a long time. It's a fantastic change and especially good to know that we're getting support from SportSingapore."

Singapore's No. 1 female player Stefanie Tan, who recently won her first International Tennis Federation Pro Circuit singles title in Azerbaijan, said the chance to train with other professional players does not come often.

"The key has been better structure," said the 23-year-old, who is also the ambassador for the tennis academy. "They've got more insight now about how they want to run things. The support system we have, with things like the strength and conditioning facilities, has also been great."

But a look at the crowd at the academy's launch yesterday at the Kallang Tennis Centre - some 300 young children were trying their hand at mini tennis - showed that it is not just about grooming elite players.

It is as much - if not more - about nurturing the young and creating opportunities to play a sport often seen by many as inaccessible.

Said Ng Eng Soon, ActiveSG senior director: "It's not an elite programme. Our first intention is to make tennis accessible and affordable."

To do this, a pilot project with schools will allow more than 1,300 students to go through a mini tennis programme. Similar programmes will also be conducted on the weekend and during the school holidays at five zonal academies across the island.

Junior (ages seven to 12) and youth (12 to 16) developmental zonal academies will follow in the fourth quarter of the year. Those above 17 have the option of joining adult tennis groups.

The aim is to reach about 4,000 kids by the end of the year.

Said Davis: "Outside of (the traditional major powers in tennis) I don't know of another country that's doing so much for tennis on so many different levels.

"It's also about our coaches imparting important life skills. Tennis, like any other sport, has the ability to teach our young important values... that will be a key feature throughout our academy."

Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu, who helped launched the academy yesterday, said the mission now will be to run the four sport academies well, before expanding to more sports.

She said: "It's important to bring it all the way down (to the grassroots) and expand it as much as possible.

"Right now there's a lot to do, and there are many kids out there waiting for the opportunities. If we can do the four sports well, then we can think about other sports."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 04, 2016, with the headline Tennis academy earns applause. Subscribe