While Women's Tennis Association (WTA) vice- president of Asia Pacific, Melissa Pine, has adopted a neutral stance when it comes to predicting who will bag the major honours at the 28th South-east Asia (SEA) Games, that didn't stop her from singing the praises of Singapore No. 1, Stefanie Tan.
Speaking on the sidelines of the WTA Future Stars Clinic at the Yio Chu Kang Tennis Centre yesterday, where Tan spent some time tutoring a swarm of kids, Pine said: "(Stefanie had) a full tennis scholarship to play in the US and she plays top on her team. She's achieved conference honours, which is one of the highest honours you can get in college sport and she is continuing to develop her game.
"Stefanie is a great role model. She has achieved a very high level of tennis, playing in the US."
In the sweltering heat yesterday, Singapore's top female player seemed right at home.
The children who took part in the clinic surrounded her, asking for autographs and selfies.
The tennis ace (right) had just flown back from school in Fort Worth, Texas on Tuesday, and has about a week left to prepare for her debut in the SEA Games on home soil.
She is still recovering from jet lag and hasn't had the time to even memorise her Singapore handphone number, but Tan is raring to go.
"I'm definitely very glad to be back and to see everyone again. Just going to Kallang (Tennis Centre) for training and seeing all the familiar faces has been really exciting," she said, with a slight American accent.
The 23-year-old will lead a four-member squad in the team event and also do battle for individual honours. The tennis competition will be held at the Kallang Tennis Centre from June 6 to 14.
Tan, who just graduated from Texas Christian University with an MBA, gave an insight into her rigorous competition schedule while competing in the NCAA Division I in the US.
"When we were in season we were going non-stop and that really helped me get more exposure. I (was ranked) No.1 in (my) college so I played against girls who were either ranked really high, or were really good players, so I definitely benefited from that."
Yet, the journey to winning a medal at the SEA Games will be tough challenge, with powerhouses Thailand and Indonesia in the mix.
The Thai team are ranked 24th in the world and boast veteran Tamarine Tanasugarn, who famously reached the quarter-finals of Wimbledon in 2008, as well as rising star Luksika Kumkhum who has a career-high ranking of 85.
But Tan has set her sights on a medal in the individual competition, which kicks off after the team event on June 9.
When asked about her goal for the team event, she said: "(Thailand and Indonesia) have really good individual players. Obviously, we aim to win, but we'll see.
"It's a good thing that we don't have so much pressure on us since we are the underdogs.
"The way I look at it, anything we do will be a plus so it takes away more pressure on us.
"I am just excited to be back and playing in front of a home crowd again."
Tan became a household name when she played in front of her "home crowd" at the inaugural Youth Olympic Games in 2010, when she lost to eventual champion Daria Gavrilova of Russia (who is now an Australian citizen).
"It makes me very proud to be representing the country again and leading the team. The last time I played in front of the home crowd was five years ago. I'm excited to do it again."
TENNIS MANIA AT YIO CHU KANG
Twenty-one junior players were given a chance to hit with Singapore's best women tennis players yesterday afternoon.
Geared up to withstand the heat at Yio Chu Kang Tennis Centre, WTA vice-president for Asia-Pacific, Melissa Pine, led the 21 youngsters in a tennis clinic.
With help from Singapore's women's team for the South-east Asia Games, Stefanie Tan, Wee Khee Yen, Sarah Pang and Angeline Devi, as well as one of Singapore's top junior players, Ashley Yim, the kids did basic drills and also played games.
"We are in such a unique position to be able to provide opportunities for youngsters to meet and practise with their local heroes," said Pine.
"It's all about helping young girls and boys to create pathways for success in life, through tennis and sport. (They) need to have role models to show them that there is a pathway and you can succeed if you stick to your goals and believe in yourself."
This article was first published on May 29, 2015.
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