The hours practising in the sun have paid off for local tennis junior Ahmad Naqib, who yesterday secured a coveted spot at the upcoming Longines Future Tennis Aces tournament in Paris.
The 12-year-old left-handed player from Raffles Institution won all five of his trial matches, conducted by the Singapore Tennis Association (STA), at the Tanglin Academy.
Armed with a spin-heavy forehand, he beat fellow 12-year-old hopefuls Jay Tan, Ryan Loo and Aneish Jose Sawney as well as 11-year-olds Andre Keh and Aaron Toh without dropping a set.
With this feat, Naqib earns the right to pit his skills against 15 other boys from countries like the United States, Britain, France and Japan. The Under-13 tournament, into its sixth year, runs alongside the prestigious French Open.
“I’m happy to have won, and feel honoured at this chance to represent Singapore. I hope to do everyone proud,” he said.
Naqib first picked up a racket when he was eight. He was inspired after watching a dominant performance by Spanish southpaw Rafael Nadal on television.
“I was so excited when I saw him on screen that I called all my siblings into the room to watch,” he said. “My game is modelled after his. I want to be like him.”
Since then, he has put in at least two hours a day on the court. It is a family effort: His brother Ahmad Azwan, 19, serves as a hitting partner while his accountant father, Ahmad Azmi, 46, takes care of everything else.
As the winner of the local leg, Naqib wins a fully paid trip to Paris, thanks to the Swiss watchmaker which has been the official timekeeper for the French Open since 2007.
He also stands a chance to win a scholarship worth US$2,000 (S$2,716) annually until the age of 16, and a chance to play with professionals like 22-time Grand Slam champion Steffi Graf, if he wins the tournament in Paris.
Wilson Tay, deputy general manager of the STA, noted that such programmes provide youngsters with invaluable exposure.
“This particular tournament is the only one that gives players access to a Grand Slam. Once they go there and experience it for themselves, they come back more serious about the sport,” he said.
While none of the past Singaporean winners made it past the first round in Paris, four of them returned to pursue tennis full-time. Nonetheless, Azmi remains upbeat.
“The game is demanding but it’s something Naqib loves. We’re behind him all the way.”
This article was first published on April 11, 2015.
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