Athleticism with sheer power, artistry infused with pinpoint decision-making, the elite tennis players make their sport look so elegant and effortless in front of spectators on the court.

Behind the eye-pleasing moves and strokes comes the years of hard work and practice, along with some natural talent beginning at early adolescence or even younger. 

Whether it is the world-renowned Roger Federer, the Williams sisters or our homegrown talents, they go through the repetitive practice to finetune their strokes and gameplay and hone their muscles at the gym.

The recent Southeast Asian Games (SEA Games) in 2023 saw Singapore field four rookie debutants in tennis in Cambodia. Two of them, Audrey Tong of Anglo-Chinese School (Independent) and Tan Sue Yan, reached the quarter-final in the women’s singles event.

Audrey Tong SNOCAndy Chua
(Audrey Tong | Photo: SNOC/Andy Chua)

In the opening round, Audrey overcame her Vietnamese opponent Pham Diem Quyuh in three sets while Sue Yan dispatched her Laotian counterpart in straight sets. This was the first time Singapore had two singles players advancing into the next stage of the SEA Games tournament.

Before the newest national quartet emerging from our courts, many have come and gone but few have made their mark at national level the way these notable predecessors had over the decades.  

Independent Singapore’s first remarkable tennis player was Lim Phi Lan. She first touched the tennis racquet as a young girl under the influence of her father, who himself was a former State player.

Her talents attracted national attention in her teens as she represented her secondary school Singapore Chinese Girls School even though it did not have a tennis court at its premise back in the late 1960s.

She eventually made her international debut in her teens and represented the nation in several SEA Games in the 1970s and early 1980s. Her tennis pinnacle came on home soil on 3 June 1983 when she became the first Singaporean to reach the SEA Games tennis final after she defeated her Indonesian opponent Sri Utaminingsih over three sets in the women’s singles semi-final.

Phi Lan eventually became the first female SEA Games silver medalist, putting a feather in the cap on her illustrious playing career where her youth foundations and talents saw her rise to be among the best in the sport in the region.

Sherman Lim and Chen Chee Yen were the next precocious tennis talents to emerge from our courts. Hailing from St. Joseph’s Institution and The Chinese High School (now Hwa Chong Institution) respectively, they went on a month-long tennis stint in Australia under a Rado Scholarship in 1987.

The positive results delivered in local and overseas youth tournaments saw them quickly climb through the ranks to make the national team while in their late teens. They would front a brief bright period for local men’s tennis in the mid-1990s as they helped Singapore capture a men’s team bronze in the 1995 SEA Games in Chiangmai, Thailand and gain promotion to the Davis Cup Asia-Oceania Group II (the second division in continental team tennis in the Davis Cup) for the last time in the next year. 

It would take the inaugural Youth Olympic Games (YOG) for the next Singapore tennis bright hope to emerge. Then a student-athlete at Raffles Junior College, now Raffles Institution (Junior College), Stefanie Tan was Singapore’s sole representative in tennis on home soil in 2010.

StefanieTan1SportSG(Stefanie Tan |  Photo: SportSG)

Prior to the YOG, she was a member of the victorious school tennis team in the ‘A’ Division Girls’ Team final in the National School Games (NSG) (there are no separate singles or doubles events for the sport). 

Her baptism of fire against global elite competition in her girls’ singles matches inspired her to pursue her dreams on the court. She would represent her nation at the 2015 and 2017 SEA Games and become only the second female Singaporean to medal, earning a women’s singles bronze in the latter edition.

Stefanie’s medal success in the sport galvanized the game in Singapore as more aspirants work towards becoming future national players and pursue towards winning matches and medal for the nation and themselves.

Charmaine Seah ensured that Singapore maintained a decent presence in the latter rounds of SEA Games tennis when she also reached the quarter-finals of the women’s singles in Manila in 2019.

Photo by Freddy Chew SportSG Charmaine Seah
(Charmaine Seah | Photo: Freddy Chew SportSG)

A NSG winner as a member of the victorious Raffles Girls’ School ‘B’ Division girls’ tennis team in 2016, she had tasted top-level youth competition when she participated in the Under-14 and Under-16 categories of the WTA Future Stars competition in 2015 and 2016 respectively.

Back to the teenage quartet in the Cambodia SEA Games, the appearance of two Singaporeans in the women’s tennis quarter-final draw was a breakthrough from past editions where hopes would previously rest on the best player, men or women. 

In the region where Thailand and Indonesia have contributed home-grown players to compete in the global elite men’s and women’s tennis tours in past decades, Audrey’s and Sue Yan’s progress in the individual event augurs well for the future of tennis as Singapore gradually closes the gap with the best.


For more NSG tennis action, watch our Tennis profile coverage on Raffles Girls' School Tennis team here

Catch our rising student athletes with ActiveSG Circle's coverage of National School Games 2023 here

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