Tennis: Ethan Lye clinches first Junior ITF title at New South Wales Junior International

Ethan Lye defeated the top-seeded Campbell Salmon to win the New South Wales Junior International on Friday (Sept 22).
Ethan Lye defeated the top-seeded Campbell Salmon to win the New South Wales Junior International on Friday (Sept 22).PHOTO: MALCOLM TAY

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

Singapore's Ethan Lye had to cope with that - and a thumb cramp - as he fought Australian top seed Campbell Salmon for the New South Wales Junior International title on Friday (Sept 22).

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

"It was a tough problem," said the right-handed player, who was cheered on by over 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 junior No. 1,298 can also be proud of the way he went about capturing his first Junior International Tennis Federation title.

The unseeded player took down Australian fifth seed (No. 954) Josh Laka in the first round as well as Australian Stefan Storch (No. 534) in the semi-final before beating 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 for all the wins, but my coaches didn't feel 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 leading 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."