S'pore's rising tennis stars through to next round of qualifiers

SINGAPORE'S young tennis talents have earned the chance to play against some of Asia's best, after making the qualifiers of the International Tennis Federation World Junior Tennis Under-14 girls' competition last week.

The team of Maxine Ng, Charmaine Seah and Ashley Yim, all 14, clinched one of the two spots available after finishing runners-up at a pre-qualifying event in Kuching. 

They lost 1-2 to Kyrgyzstan in the final, but not before they took down hosts and top seeds Malaysia in the semi-final.

All three are students at the Singapore Sports School. 

While Charmaine had played in the same competition last year, it was the first time that Maxine and Ashley - both in the Singapore Tennis Association's full-time tennis programme - donned national colours at an international tournament. 

"We were very nervous," said Ashley, who teamed up with Maxine to win the deciding doubles tie 6-1, 6-3 in the semi-finals, a match that took 21/2 hours. 

"It was the first time that we played such a long match. You could hear people supporting Malaysia and it was quite intimidating.

"Luckily for us, we weren't that affected by the supporters and just played our game." 

Added Maxine: "We won the first set 6-1 but even then there were a lot of long rallies and deuces. We were exhausted by the end of the match." 

Nigel Yeo, the captain of the team at the tournament, applauded the girls' efforts, saying that they played above what was required of them.

He added: "There were nerves but you could see that they were hungry for the win. They've gained a lot of respect from the other teams."

The team will play the qualifiers in April in New Delhi, where 16 of the top teams in the Asia/Oceania region - including Japan and Australia - will compete for two places in the finals of the world junior tournament at Prostejov, Czech Republic, in August. The reigning girls' champions are the US.

Finishing in the top 14 at the Asia/Ocean qualifiers will mean the ability to skip the pre-qualifying competition next year.

Said Charmaine: "I will go to New Delhi and try to play my best, without putting any pressure on myself. 

"If I play with less pressure, I will do better." 

Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.