Tennis: STA widens net for full-timers

Tennis: STA widens net for full-timers

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.

Both were part of the pioneer batch of full-time trainees.

He said: "It was unprecedented that we had two Singaporeans reach that stage.

"From that perspective, it's working. We are seeing some benefits but we still have a long way to go."

Koh added that it is an opportune time to ride on the growing buzz about the sport, with Singapore taking over as host of the prestigious Women's Tennis Association Championships for the next five years.

"It's good that as the nation hosting it, we at least look like we have a good and credible structure in place," he said.

"This is a good time to get your house in order, for people to take you seriously.

"Kids in the region are really taking the sport very seriously. If we don't do anything as an association, then we'll just be recreational.

"We know what needs to be done to at least have a chance.

"There's no guarantee that you'll produce a Wimbledon champion, but if you don't try, then all the more there's no chance."

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