Tennis: STA widens net for full-timers

Tennis: STA widens net for full-timers
Isaac Ong, 16, at the ITF Singapore Junior Championships, where he made the quarter-finals. Isaac was from the first batch of full-time trainees.

The Singapore Tennis Association (STA) has set the wheels in motion to take in a second batch of juniors willing to train full-time in the hope of turning professional.

This time, however, the hunt is for younger players around the age of 12, making them on average two years younger than those from the pioneer batch of 2011.

The new group will consist of four to six players. They will begin training six days a week under a new coach whom the STA plans to hire.

Like their seniors, the players will be expected to participate in at least 10 International Tennis Federation (ITF) tournaments a year. A target to be ranked among the world's top 750 juniors by the end of 2016 has also been set.

Said Marc Koh, STA's vice-chairman of the full-time tennis programme: "We hope to get this batch a little younger, so that they get some time to really get into the swing of things, get used to the travelling and playing before they start competing in the ITF tournaments."

But unlike the initial group, which has been backed by a $500,000 war chest since its formation, this new batch will likely have to be co-funded by the STA and parents.

Said Rutgers Oudejans, the association's acting general manager: "The STA funds the whole thing (for the current group) but that's not a workable format because it's costing too much."

While it is not yet known what the exact cost to parents will be, Oudejans gave the assurance that the STA will still bear the bulk of the burden.

The STA is also keeping its fingers crossed for additional funding from the Singapore Sports Council to help run the full-time programme.

Oudejans pointed to the recent Singapore ITF Junior Championships, where 17-year-old Joshua Liu and 16-year-old Isaac Ong reached the last eight of the singles event, as evidence of the programme starting to bear fruit.

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