by Nicolette Mok
It’s not only about the individual player in a tennis match, according to Team Singapore tennis star Stefanie Tan, who speaks about the people who form part of her “team”.
A sport that demands technical excellence from an individual, tennis is unsurprisingly often perceived as a solo sport. After all, one can start to play it with nothing more than a racquet, a ball, and a wall.
However, to 24-year-old Stefanie Tan, Team Singapore’s top tennis representative and a full-time player on the international pro circuit, tennis is not only about a lone player battling it out on the court. In fact, she places emphasis on the importance of working well with others, picking up lessons from them at every opportunity.
Having played tennis since she was four years old, starting first by training leisurely under her uncle, she joined the Kallang Elite Squad and become a national junior player at the age of 12.
Stefanie shared more about her earliest influence: “My uncle is a local coach in Singapore. He used to do a lot of lessons and my parents would usually drop me there just so they could have time to themselves. I ended up loving being on the court so much that I would stay around after my lesson just running around and picking balls, or helping him to feed balls.”
The Youth Olympic Games alumnus then went on to play college tennis in the U.S. on a sports scholarship. Upon her graduation and return home from college, she became the first Singaporean since 2002 to clinch an International Tennis Federation (ITF) singles title, doing so at the Baku Cup Futures 2 tournament this year.
Speaking about her successes, Stefanie credited those who have been with her all the way, referring to her performance as something that had been achieved “as a team.” This team includes, perhaps most significantly, her coach of nearly 10 years, Boyan Hadjisotirov.
“My coach would travel with me full-time when I played on the junior circuit. We travelled a lot and we formed a very close bond. Even till now, he’s not just my coach. He understands me a lot and he’s shaped the person that I have become. That’s something that’s been pivotal,” she revealed.
Indeed, as the WTA-ranked player tells us, tennis is not just about the techniques, tactics, and physical expertise, and she has her coach to thank for being a “personal mentor” as well, guiding and supporting her in aspects that extend beyond the court.
“When you’re at a tournament and you’re not doing well, how do you get out of the rut? If you’re doing well, who do you share it with? My coach and I have been through thick and thin together. He’s always there and he understands the way I think and how to make me feel okay after a match,” she explained.
“He has helped me grow as a person. Sometimes, after matches, I can harp about something that I’ve not done well for a very long time, and I’ll get very upset about it. But he looks at things in the big picture, and that helps me to look at things in terms of long-term goals and how I can be better as a person. You’d think that a tennis coach is just focusing on your actual tennis results, but he’s not like that.”
Coaches aside, Stefanie also professed to have found role models in the unlikely form of her competitors, further establishing her point that tennis is certainly not a solitary sport. She said: “As you grow older and you watch more people play, taking them as role models, you learn by observing what they’re doing that you’re not.”
In turn, she also hopes to inspire and motivate a new generation of aspiring tennis pros, playing a role in their own little “teams” that these youths will eventually form as they make their way into the competitive arena.
As the recently appointed Sport Ambassador of the ActiveSG Tennis Academy, Stefanie is working to help increase awareness of tennis and make it more accessible to the masses.
“I’m something like a mentor to the younger children, or the juniors who are playing on the tour,” she told us.
“You need someone who will teach you more than just tennis, helping you to build things like life skills and resilience of character. There is a lot more than just winning or losing.”