Tennis: Local representative falls in opening match at Longines tournament in Paris

Naqib skipping rope to warm up before his match. -- ST PHOTO: DARYL CHIN 
Naqib skipping rope to warm up before his match. -- ST PHOTO: DARYL CHIN 
Ahmad Naqib, 12, in action at the Longines Future Tennis Aces tournament in Paris. -- ST PHOTO: DARYL CHIN 

PARIS - With his loopy left-handed forehands, double-handed backhands and clever drop shots, Ahmad Naqib resembles his idol Rafael Nadal at times.

But the 12-year-old Raffles Institution student's valiant effort was not enough for him to win like the Spanish "King of Clay", as he lost 3-5, 0-4 to Jameson Ryan Corsillo of the United States at the annual Longines Future Tennis Aces tournament yesterday.

The Under-13 clay-court tournament, which runs alongside the French Open, is organised by Swiss watchmaker Longines. Singapore has sent representatives for the past five editions, but none had gone past the first round.

However, when Naqib went 3-2 up in the first set, he looked poised to score a breakthrough after coming out on top of a long 15-shot rally.

But Corsillo, the youngest boy to win a scholarship at the John McEnroe tennis academy in New York, capitalised on his stronger serve and took the first set with several well-placed forehand winners.

"He was very consistent. His shots went left and right, and I couldn't move as well as I wanted on the clay courts," said Naqib.

Rattled, he played an error-prone second set, double-faulting several times, allowing Corsillo to wrap up the game in slightly less than an hour.

The loss hit Naqib hard. "I should not have let the first set affect me, but somehow it did. I tried my best but I've disappointed my parents and myself," he said after the match.

His father, accountant Ahmad Azmi, 46, was more optimistic: "Naqib has done well. Taking into consideration that his US opponent has an impressive profile, he still put up a good fight. Things might have turned out differently if he had won the first set."

While Naqib's run ends here, both father and son were glad for the opportunity to be part of the tournament that runs alongside the prestigious French Open.

"This was an eye-opener for us. It gives Naqib access to top level coaches and experience playing with the top young players from so many countries," said Azmi.

One such coach is Remi Barbarin, who has been either a coach or physical trainer to French players Arnaud Clement, Michael Llodra and Gael Monfils.

Naqib said he has learnt from Barbarin several new footwork drills which he believes will improve his performance in time.

Barbarin also believes Naqib is well on his way to greater things, adding: "He has to work on his defence and add variations to his shots rather than go for the straight winner all the time. If he can do that, he has the potential to be very good."

On Naqib's end, the loss seems to have instilled an stronger sense of determination.

"I'll never give up. I'll try harder, go for more tournaments. I'll fight for it. I want to turn professional," he said, with his father smiling proudly behind.

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