There was no lack of passion and emotions during the Davis Cup. Photo: Sport Singapore
If I were to be asked to sum up Singapore’s campaign at this year’s Asia/Oceania Group III Davis Cup event, held on home soil at the OCBC Arena for the first time in 25 years, that would be my answer because during 26 to 29 June, the venue was not only filled with racquet wielding gladiators, but it also showcased just how far Singapore tennis has progressed.
As the lowest ranking nation amongst seven other countries, Singapore had their work cut out for them and received the worst possible draw they could hope for, with Vietnam, Sri Lanka and Kuwait drawn into the same table as them. The stage was set for what would seem to be a torrid time out for the Singaporean team.
Match day 1 would see them face off against the Kuwaitis, who in their midst boasted an ATP veteran in the form of Mohammad Ghareeb, capped 34 times, having first represented his country in 1997.
Steve Ng in action during the Davis Cup. Photo: Sport Singapore
In two exhilarating singles matches that possessed all of the grit, determination and emotion all the players could summon at each other, Kuwait and Ghareeb were fortunate to be leading 2-0 before Singapore clinched the doubles with a masterful performance by Roy Hobbs and Jensen Hiu. In his match against Steve Ng, Ghareeb found himself wanting in the second set after a spirited comeback from the Singaporean but wisely fell back on his experience to clinch the tie. His expression on court said it all as he knew he had dodged a bullet for his country. In similar fashion, Shaheed Alam dragged his opponent, Adbullah Maqdes the full distance before succumbing in the third.
Day 2 would see the Singaporeans come up against the strongest team in the tournament and this was clearly on show as both singles matches were wrapped up in slightly over an hour. The performance during the doubles match however was a different story as the pair of Steve Ng and Shaheed Alam dispatched their counterparts in three enthralling sets. Singapore, seeded more than 30 places lower would be the only country during the entire tournament to take 1 point off the Vietnamese.
All of this drama would culminate in the third day of proceedings and it was all laid out on the table as Shaheed Alam produced a masterclass performance to dispatch his Sri Lankan opponent in straight sets. The visitors pounced back and levelled at 1-1 and it was all left to play for in the doubles match.
Roy Hobbs (left) and Jensen Hiu proved to be an effective pairing. Photo: Sport Singapore
Tennis has always been known to be a game of fine and sometimes very unforgiving margins as well as threshold of error and it showed as the Singaporean pair on numerous occasions surrendered their lead and multiple match points to eventually lose to their Sri Lankan counterparts in a match that brought tears to the eyes of so many onlooking Singaporean fans as well as the players themselves. The difference between converting those match points and missing them would result in Singapore having to battle for 7th place instead of a possible 3rd and 4th place finish.
As Singapore faced surprise play-off opponents Iran, ranked 28 places higher than them, many were saying that the writing was already on the wall with the host nation almost seemingly to be condemned to the last position at this year’s Davis Cup.
Shaheed Alam once again produced a class act as he swiftly dispatched his singles opponent and Steve Ng took the reigns of his match against Shahin Khaledan, a much more accomplished player in his own right. Drama ensued as Steve could not convert either side of a 5-1 lead in the second and third set after clinching the first and relinquished 9 match points before his opponent closed out the game. Not a dry eye was in the arena as they witnessed their local hero reduced to tears after the match, knowing that he had let a golden opportunity slip by. In the deciding doubles match, it was decided that Roy Hobbs would substitute Steve and took his place alongside Shaheed Alam. The tennis that ensued was nothing short of a masterclass as the Singaporean pair punched way above their weight to give Singapore their first victory over Iran in four attempts and their first win of the campaign.
Shaheed Alam in action during Davis Cup. Photo: Sport Singapore
While it would seem that all of that effort only resulted in a 7th position finish for the host nation, the circumstances and repercussions from this tournament cannot be ignored. In short, nobody gave the host nation a chance to even compete on the same level as any of the other nations and the history books would back up that presumption. For once in a very long time, Singapore was swinging way above their weight, putting the brakes on the Vietnamese behemoth, taking the game to the Kuwaitis and almost edging past a much more illustrious Sri Lankan side. The victory over Iran was iconic as Singaporeans gathered to rally behind their team and caught a glimpse of just what the team would be capable of when given the right positive support that they needed.
As a commentator, it was heartwarming to see seats being filled even on a Wednesday afternoon, kids asking the local players for autographs, posing for photos and having conversations with them.
As a nation, we finally rallied behind our tennis team as one force to take on the rest of the world and the players definitely did not disappoint with their performances.
In my ending broadcast note, I mentioned that this was exactly what our athletes required and for us to be supportive of their efforts, to pull them through trying moments and for them to express their gratitude and thanks by winning or a class act by Shaheed when he addressed the crowd after their victory against Iran.
This is more of what we need in Singapore. To unite behind our athletes, to stand behind them and to help them become the best version of themselves that they ever will be.
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