Now for a serious tennis push

Now for a serious tennis push
Veteran Thai tennis player Tamarine Tanasugarn (right) and Noppawan Lertcheewakarn competing in the women's doubles during the 28th Sea Games on 9 June 2015.
PHOTO: ST

COMMENT

It was a wonderfully exciting time at the South-east Asia (SEA) Games over the last couple of weeks and I felt so fortunate to be part of it as a fan.

Being in Singapore during such a monumental event was a privilege.

I was especially impressed at the level of tennis, by both the Singapore players and their South-east Asian counterparts.

I know Singapore tennis has faced criticism for not winning a medal, but they deserve credit for putting up a great fight against the likes of a very experienced Thailand team that featured a number of highly-ranked WTA players.

The Thais had former Wimbledon quarter-finalist Tamarine Tanasugarn and junior Wimbledon champion Noppawan Lertcheewakarn in their ranks.

There was also WTA Rising Star Luksika Kumkhum, who had a career-high singles ranking of 85.

That was a tough opponent for Singapore No. 1 Stefanie Tan to come up against, and she definitely put up a great fight.

Having our WTA office at the Sports Hub certainly provided the opportunity to see up close the kind of impact the 2015 SEA Games has had on the future generation.

Seeing the excitement on the faces of young kids as they took part in the slew of activities outside the athletic theatre, it is clear that the Games has inspired a whole new generation of youngsters who are going to represent Singapore in future.

In tennis, specifically, maybe we'll get to see more Singaporeans in the Fed Cup, and future SEA Games, or maybe even the Olympics.

Perhaps some will get a college scholarship, like some young Singaporean women tennis players have done.

EXPOSURE

I think there are three important elements to developing future tennis players, starting with exposure.

Kids have to witness tennis; they have to be exposed to tennis and get the opportunity to pick up a tennis racket.

Also important is a nation hosting events like the SEA Games and the WTA Finals. There's definitely a correlation between a nation that hosts an event like this and the development of the sport and its talent.

I think Singapore is definitely doing all the right things right now.

Developing the next star doesn't happen overnight. It takes time, but I think this is happening as part of Vision 2030 and Sport Singapore's effort to motivate the public to live better through sport.

The third important element, I think, are the heroes from the events being brought in.

There are local heroes, regional heroes and global heroes - everyone needs a role model and someone to look up to.

Events like the SEA Games and WTA Finals make sport a bigger part of life and culture.

Take women's tennis in Thailand.

They've won six out of seven gold medals this SEA Games. I think Thailand has hosted professional tennis events like the WTA Pattaya Open, and tennis and sport is just ingrained in their culture.

The SEA Games was an excellent showcase for women's tennis.

I felt very proud to be there and to see tennis in this region getting stronger and stronger.

It was also inspiring to see players from South-east Asia fight it out, and to see that there are highly-ranked players in this region.

It just shows there's a lot of talent here, and I think the more playing opportunities these players have in the region, the stronger they're going to become.

That's why the WTA really believes in building a legacy here and that's why we are here in Singapore to kick it off and that's why the WTA has made a home here in Singapore.

It's also why we've started the WTA Future Stars programme for girls under 14 and 16 years old, which provides girls in the region the opportunity to experience the high level of competition and the environment that the stars live in.

They get to compete against the best from around the region, with mentoring experience from the top eight women's singles players in the world.

These are experiences that can make a huge impact and change lives.

We know there is talent here and the more opportunities these talented young girls are given, the more they'll shine.


This article was first published on June 19, 2015.
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