By Caryn Chiah (19A01A) and Shivani (20S06R)
Photos courtesy of Vivien He (20S03N)
It is 7:39am on a Thursday. Some have been in school for a while, and now sit in the parade square, bobbing along to whatever music democracy chose on Instagram the night before. Others join the panicked dash up the stairs, courting time and luck to arrive at their classes before the bell rings. In the mass of over 2000 students, you would hardly notice the absence of 11 girls. Yet, inconspicuously or not, there are 11 empty spaces where 11 tanned girls, 11 large duffle bags, and 22 tennis racquets are decidedly missing.
10 MRT stops away, the girls’ tennis team practise their shots. For many in the team, this will be their final shot at victory on the inter-school level; it will also be their last match together as a team. Be that as it may, if any of them are nervous about their big match, they don’t show it; instead, there is a light smattering of chatter, inside jokes and gentle ribbing, an easy familiarity that comes from spending so much time together. We ask Olivia, the team captain, on how she’s dealing with the pressure of the upcoming games. She shrugs nonchalantly, but is serious in her answers: “We already met HCI in the Quarters and won, but we faced more resistance than anticipated… our team has worked really hard since the start of the year and I think we’re in a good position to face whatever comes our way.”
This determination is mirrored in her teammates. At 7:45am, they gather in their pre-game team huddle one last time before the matches start, where their coach urges them to focus on the process and not the results, while Olivia rallies her team with words of encouragement. Then, at 8:00am, they make their way into the competition courts. It is quiet: supporters from both schools have yet to arrive. Each girl or doubles pair is alone in the court—the five matches take place simultaneously, so there is no moment where the entire tennis team gathers as one to cheer another teammate on. This scene is unexpected at a sports match, where teams would normally spur on their fellow players together, but this is perhaps symbolic of this sport itself.
Team member Tammy effectively counters this with her belief, stating that it is “good to incorporate this individuality into a team so [the players] get to experience team spirit.” How will this team spirit affect the way the girls play? We settle in to find out.
Steeling their nerves, the girls get into their game stance, ready to confront their opponents. The supporters have started to trickle in, and scatter themselves across the different courts, watching eagerly from behind the barrier. Five games are taking place simultaneously: three singles matches and two doubles. For Team Raffles to win, our girls have to win at least 3 out of the 5 matches. When asked for her opinion on how the matches play out side-by-side, Olivia notes, “I think it made every player put a lot of pressure on themselves because you don’t really see how your teammates are doing: you’re just focusing on your own game and you don’t know whether your match ends up being the deciding match that breaks the tie.” However, this adds a team-effort aspect to the very individual-based sport that is tennis. Olivia also acknowledges that there “must be a united effort across the entire team”, for “one star player definitely will not be able to ‘carry’ the whole team.”
Nicole is the first player to finish her match. She had gotten off to a rocky start, losing the first few points to her opponent. In between serves during her first game, she tosses her racquet into the air, catching it easily as it flips. “Her lucky flip,” Olivia tells us, is something Nicole does when she’s feeling nervous. It seems the lucky flip, or perhaps just Nicole’s perseverance and hard work, must have worked; when we return to her court towards the end of her match, the tide has turned, and Nicole scores the first win for Team Raffles. Afterwards, we catch up with her, and she tells us that she is “feeling good”, and “excited to play with this team next year.”
For the other girls, the matches continue. Into their second or third sets now, the girls have been playing fiercely for almost half an hour. They don’t know how the other matches are going. But despite the inherent insulation of each court, vice-captain Jeovanne carries an awareness of her team into the court. This is not just a mere awareness, but an understanding that the team has her back. Her match isn’t an easy one, not just because she faces off against Hwa Chong’s top player, but because she nurses an injured shoulder—sustained right at the start of the game. Yet, Jeovanne cites her team as a motivating force, explaining: “Playing for my team pushes me to work harder because I don’t want to let them down”. And she did not let them down, for her beautiful services and rapid shots clinch another win for Team Raffles.
One of the most notable moments of the morning takes place in Tessa and Sarah’s doubles court. It happens right after Tessa smacks the ball right into the net, a move she would later deride as “stupid”. As she sinks to the floor in half-mocking despair, cries of confusion and shock ring out from the spectators. Despite this, doubles partner Sarah tells her to stand up, and extends a hand to pull her up. Back on her feet, the partners push on. Despite losing their first game, they pick each other up (figuratively and literally) and quickly regain their momentum, eventually culminating in a victory.
Meanwhile, in the other courts the two other matches are heating up: the singles match played by Tammy, and the doubles match played by Su Wen and Manali. Tammy manages to score yet another win for Team Raffles, sending the crowd of Rafflesian supporters up in cheers. After a fierce, long battle against their opponents from HCI on the other court, Su Wen and Manali are eventually defeated. They were both visibly distraught, grimacing as their opponents won the deciding set of the final match of the day. However, having fought valiantly for their team, they still emerged victorious at the end of the day and were met with cheers from all of Team Raffles: their teammates, their coaches and their friends.
The girls may have had different experiences, and played separate games with different outcomes, but they will all win or lose as a team, and this year’s tennis inter-school finals has ended with the RI girls’ team emerging as the champions against HCI. They hail from different secondary schools, different secondary school CCAs, different classes, different subject streams. Their journeys as tennis players are all different. For some, this competition is just a blip in their tennis careers, while others have played almost exclusively for the school. Yet, in this moment, all of them share the same drive to do their team and the school proud. Surrounded by a crowd of rallying Rafflesians, the tennis team goes up as one to receive their medals and the championship trophy.
“It has been tough to balance the conflicts between giving my players the time and space to prepare themselves and the teachers’ or coach’s desires to have good team attendance and foster a stronger team spirit. Personal and team development is something you always have to balance when it comes to sports like tennis.”Olivia Lee (19S06O)
In her parting words to her juniors, the team captain Olivia delivers one last message. “Treasure the friendships you’ve made and the memories you shared, because when you’re here next year playing your last interschool, holding your medals and smiling for the camera for the last time, I hope you take away more than trophies. I hope you take away amazing memories and laughs, and the comfort in knowing you have a group of solid friends that you can always fall back on and will support you through anything. It has been a pleasure to lead you guys and walk this journey with you.”
Raffles Press would like to applaud the Tennis Girls for their excellent performance, and congratulate them for a well-deserved victory.
Jeovanne Canace Poernomo, 19S03F
Tammy Tan Kay Shan, 19S06L
Tessa Wong Jia Yee, 19A01C
Olivia Lee Yu-Yen, 19S06O
Sin Su-Wen, 19A01D
Nicole Ng Yi-Lynn, 20S03P
Sarah Abdul Rahman, 20S06E
Manali Patil, 20S06D
Syarah Zafira, 20S06C
Helen Trenner, 20S02A
Vivien He, 20S03N