Tennis: STA's full-time programme to be restructured

The highlight of the $500,000 STA programme is Shaheed Alam's triumph at the STA Tanglin Academy ITF Junior Tournament last year.
The highlight of the $500,000 STA programme is Shaheed Alam's triumph at the STA Tanglin Academy ITF Junior Tournament last year.PHOTO: VOXSPORTS

Four years after its inception and with just one player left in the set-up, the Singapore Tennis Association (STA) is giving its full-time tennis programme for juniors a rethink.

This comes after Enzo Chua, 16, and Sherwin Foo, 18 - both part of the scheme's pioneer batch - became the latest to opt out last year, leaving 17-year-old Shaheed Alam the only player still part of the initiative.

Started in 2011, the programme began with hopes of developing future professionals and winning a medal at last year's SEA Games. Its $500,000 war chest allowed bold moves such as sending eight players to a month-long training stint at the famed Magic Box - Madrid's Manzanares Park Tennis Centre.

At its peak in 2014, there were as many as 12 players committed to putting elite tennis above academic pursuits. But the funding was depleted quickly while many players expressed a desire to return to mainstream schools.

Shaheed's singles title won at the STA Tanglin Academy International Tennis Federation Junior Tournament last October, a Grade 5 event which offers the least ranking points on the ITF junior circuit, is the scheme's most notable achievement.

To keep the programme going after the initial funding ran out in the programme's third year, the STA adopted a co-sharing scheme.

STA deputy general manager Wilson Tay admitted that the results yielded have not been ideal, and there are lessons to learn in trying to do better in the future.

He said: "It's disappointing in the sense that a lot of money has been involved, and time and effort have been put in. The STA is still quite new to the idea of professional tennis in the high performance area.

"The current committee was disappointed that we were unable to (attain at least a bronze at the SEA Games), therefore a restructure is underway."

For Joshua Liu, who was one of the first to join the scheme, the project started off well but soon lost its momentum. Currently undergoing national service and too old for the junior circuit at 20, he rues the investment of time, money and effort in the programme.

He said: "When we first started, I found it really good and we saw improvement under (former technical director) Paul Dale. But I think the STA tried to make everyone happy to a point where the whole programme wasn't structured and the money wasn't spent very wisely in the end.

"The programme has been going on for quite a few years, but it's still stagnant while you see neighbours like Malaysia picking up on what we tried to do, creating a structured programme and improving."

Shaheed, however, credits the full-time programme for helping him train more and get better.

Still, the recent Singapore Sports School (SSP) graduate, who will join the Republic Polytechnic-SSP Diploma in Sports and Leisure Management programme in March, agrees there can be improvements to the programme.

He said: "It would be good if regional players, like those ranked around No. 400-500 on the professional circuit, can hit with us. They can help to push us a bit more and motivate us. If not, we'll always be hitting with the same players."

The restructuring of the full-time tennis programme is expected this year.

Said Tay: "The full-time tennis programme is something that we'd very much like to continue, (but) a certain restructuring is necessary. We're looking at a more cautious approach, with a more results-oriented approach."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 16, 2016, with the headline 'STA's full-time programme tobe restructured'. Print Edition | Subscribe