Tennis: Adithya and Sarah slip and slide to get to grips with clay ahead of Longines Future Tennis Aces event

Sarah Anne Wong and Adithya Suresh have been warming up over the past weeks on the clay courts of the Savitar Tennis Centre at Fairmont Hotel for the May 31-June 2 Longines event. ST PHOTOS: ALPHONSUS CHERN

SINGAPORE - The intricacies involved in playing on a clay court means one has to master the art of the slide.

That is something that does not come naturally to Singaporean youngsters Adithya Suresh and Sarah Anne Wong, having learnt their craft on the far more prevalent hard courts.

But while it has been very much a learning curve on the surface for the pair, who are in Paris this week for the Longines Future Tennis Aces tournament, they are eager to put their lessons into practice.

The 12-year-olds, who will be among 40 players from 20 countries, have been warming up over the past weeks on the clay courts of the Savitar Tennis Centre at Fairmont Hotel for the May 31-June 2 Longines event.

It takes place alongside the French Open - tennis' second Grand Slam of the year, and started in 2010.

And their coach Nandagopal Balasubramaniam or Nandu as he prefers to be known by, believes that while they are still getting to grips with clay, at 1.8m and 80kg, left-hander Adithya stands the better chance at advancing past the round-robin stage.

Matthias Wong's feat of having won a match at last year's edition remains the best achievement by a Singaporean.

"Adithya's strength is his forehand and serve, and he has no fear about matches so he can go further. It's a good experience and good exposure (for him)," the 48-year-old coach said in an interview last Thursday (May 24).

Nandu added that the Savitar courts are "not exactly real clay, which is twice as slippery" and both juniors "need to learn how to and get used to sliding".

Adithya, however, feels that despite the limited practice time, clay is now his "favourite surface" as it suits his natural game and he is aiming to go one further than Matthias.

"On clay, the ball slows down a lot so the rallies are longer, and that means more stamina and footwork.

"That is something I've always liked and in the last few weeks, I've been doing agility, speed and change-of-movement exercises to prepare so I hope it will all pay off in Paris," the Secondary 1 student at Anglo-Chinese School (Independent) said.

"Not to put pressure on myself but it'll be nice to break that (Matthias') record."

Unlike Adithya, Sarah's preferred surface remains the hard court as she grew up playing on it.

However, the Primary 6 pupil at Marymount Convent revealed that she will be using the opportunity to learn from fellow budding players.

"I'm looking forward to going to Paris next week as I'll get to play with competitors from different countries. I expect them to be hard opponents so as long as I can win two games, I'll be happy," she said.

"My strengths are my consistency and ability to rally for long as well as slicing, but I need to improve on my fitness and service game. I'm not sure if I can match Matthias' mark but I'll try."

This year is the first time Singapore will have multiple representatives at the annual event, with countries given two spots to commemorate the event's ninth edition.

The overall winner will receive a Longines watch, an annual tennis scholarship worth US$2,000 (S$2,700) a year until they turn 16, and the chance to play in an exhibition match alongside professional tennis players.

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