By Claire Tan (20S07A) and Val Yeo (20S03O)
The 10th of May started hot. And sticky.
Early morning showers had rendered the tennis courts unusable: not only were matches postponed an hour, we were also hot and sticky. Us reporters, who only ever come into contact with the light from our computers, were absolutely melting under the sun’s unwavering glare.
And so, unable to bear the heat, we T-posed to take up space, argued over cookies, and watched councillors shout into the loudspeaker. Yet, all that time spent fooling around was quickly forgotten when our tennis players appeared, swiftly grabbing everyone’s attention. They strode onto the court with racquet in hand, hard eyes set on their opponent.
Even the warmups were devoid of mercy, the air fraught with tension right from the get go. Hit the ball against the net, and you could hear the crowd sigh; hit an out, and you could see deflated shoulders.
This year Raffles was up against ACS(I), a daunting opponent who had won the last 4 Tennis Championships. The results of today’s finals boiled down to the 5 matches to be played: 2 doubles and 3 singles.
The doubles started off with the blow of the referee’s whistle. The green, fuzzy ball was thrown into the air before making contact with the perfectly timed swing of the racquet, sending it into their opponent’s court.
In the court closer to us, Timothy Lee (20S03R) and Xavier Lien (20S03H) worked in tandem, eyes trained on the ball while still communicating silently with each other. With tension thick in the air, both spectators and competitors were visibly nervous. Spectators looked on with bated breath, intently watching the scores go up. Under the intense pressure of hundreds of eyes, the stress took an obvious toll on some of the competitors, who began to make mistakes in their play.
Even as their confidence wavered, their friends outside the court cheered them on more loudly: they never failed to affirm them whenever a point was scored, or console them with words of encouragement when a point was lost.
Timothy and Xavier put up a good fight, but eventually left the court crestfallen with a game score of 3-6 and 0-6, losing to their ACS(I) opponents. Upon seeing their grim and somber faces, their coaches approached them and clasped each of their hands firmly, saying, “Still proud of you.”
In the other doubles court, Jonathan Teo (19S06E) and Joshua Lee (20S03N) were up. Though they lost the first set 3-6, the pair made a swift comeback in the second set, winning 6-2. Beside us, one of the spectators shouted, “Let’s go Raffles!” as they score a point in their opponent’s court, before saying, “Ah, I think I cracked my jaw just now from cheering.”
The third match, being the tiebreaker, was especially stressful.
Neither of the teams could afford to make a mistake and each ball served was returned readily, the match soon turning into a volley of the green, fuzzy ball bouncing from court to court with both teams unwilling to give up the point.
The two teams are neck and neck before ACS(I) took the set, winning 6-3.
Two hours in, the doubles matches eventually concluded, and it was up to the singles players to lead their way back to victory. But ACS(I) had two singles players win the first set. (You need to win 2 sets out of 3 to win.) The third singles match saw tennis captain Sean Yun (19S03E) with the ball entirely in his court. With utter ease, he took set one. The second set proved to be a challenge, however, with his opponent, Mark Theng from ACS(I), changing up his play. Still, Sean remained calm and composed, emerging victorious with a scoreline of 6-3, 7-6 (7-2).
Paul Michel (19S06L) fought hard against his competitor, with the supporters at the stands cheering him on every time he won a point with shouts of “Don’t give up!”. However, he ultimately lost to his opponent, 6-1, 6-1.
With ACS(I) ahead, it was now down to Timothy to prevail. At the start of the game, his strokes were hasty, and his opponent often gained points due to Timothy’s mistakes instead of outplaying him. “He’s just nervous,” someone beside me commented. “He’ll come back.” However, he lost his first set 6-0, a debilitating defeat. To lose six points in a row takes a heavy toll on one’s psyche, and now he needed to win the next two sets for RI to clinch first place.
The second set commenced, and most of the supporters came by to cheer him on. Even when the circumstances looked bleak, they never gave up on him, and at no point did we hear anyone whisper “He’s not going to win.”; instead, all we heard was “He just needs to focus,” or “He can do it”. Throughout the games, the deafening cheers from the crowd was proof that they never lost faith in him.
With the spirit of the team behind him, Timothy yelled. He grunted. He sprinted. He took four hard-fought sets off his opponent before eventually losing 6-0, 6-4.
Under the sweltering heat that day, it was this tenacity of the players that shone through and characterized what it really meant to be a tennis player. Beyond the sport itself, we saw how Raffles Tennis was also about yelling words of encouragement and erupting into cheers whenever a teammate scored, and fighting alongside the players every step of the way no matter the circumstance.
Although the Boys’ Tennis team landed an impressive second place overall, they were visibly disappointed. Still, it does not discredit all the hard work they have put into the sport, including all they had sacrificed to come this far. After all, what we saw that day was merely a small fraction of all the hard work they put in. As team captain Sean put it, “The most trying moments of this past season happened off court rather than on court, with there being numerous instances of conflict, be it involving figures of authority or between teammates. But I am proud that my team managed to put all these behind them to train and fight as hard as they could.”
As the event came to a close, the team took a bow, concluding their competition season and the J2s’ journey with the team. When asked if he had anything to say to his juniors, Sean had these words of advice: “For the remaining months of this year, focus on spending and enjoying time with your batchmates! After all the heavy academic commitments are over with, slowly get back into the tennis grind and work towards next year.”
Though tennis appears to be an individual (or pair at best) sport, the players gathered strength from the rest of the team to face-off their opponents, and it was this camaraderie that saw the players through the season. Raffles Press would like to congratulate the Tennis Boys on their remarkable achievements and is looking forward to seeing them back on court next year!
Sean Yun (RI) d. Mark Theng (ACSI) 6-3 7-6(7-2)
Robin Cheng (ACSI) d. Timothy Lim (RI) 6-0 6-4
Takeshi Koey (ACSI) d. Paul Michel (RI) 6-1 6-1
Caleb Tay/Chris Theng (ACSI) d. Xavier Lien/Timothy Lee (RI) 6-3 6-0
Jonathan Teo/Joshua Lee (RI) d. Tiah Jeng Ern/Tetsushi Ito (ACSI) 3-6 6-2 6-3