You are here
Putting his back into his game
MATTHIAS Wong could be tennis' answer to Joseph Schooling - the national junior player's parents are banking on their son to go far by financing his training and even home-schooling him just so he can concentrate more on the sport.
The 12-year-old's gruelling schedule includes one-to-two-hour morning sessions with a private coach four times a week, and evening practice with the national squad from 4pm to 7pm every weekday. All this on top of taking part in international competitions and sitting for his PSLE later this year.
Just last week, Wong was in Paris to participate in the Longines Future Tennis Aces tournament (June 1-3), which runs parallel to the French Open. He clinched the coveted spot to represent Singapore after emerging top - and undefeated - at the home qualifying trial in April.
Pack of aces
Now into its eight edition, the Longines Future Tennis Aces tournament features 20 young tennis players under the age of 13 from all around the world congregating in the French capital to compete for silverware, a Longines time piece, and an annual tennis scholarship worth US$2,000 per year (until they turn 16).
The participants' sexes alternate every year and 2017 was an all-boys affair with the participants hailing from Australia, Austria, China, France, Germany, India, Hong Kong, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Poland, Russia, Singapore, Spain, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, the United Kingdom and the United States.
The format has also been tweaked for the first time to feature round-robin group matches before proceeding into knock-out rounds for the quarter- and semi-finals.
In past editions, players were eliminated immediately after playing the first match; and no Singaporean has ever won anything - although previous local representatives such as Charmaine Seah and Shaheed Alam have progressed in the game and are now in the SEA Games squad.
Wilson Tay, deputy general manager of Singapore Tennis Association, says that in the instance of Wong being home-schooled for the sake of tennis, the move is "a big step" for potential professional players in Singapore.
"This trend is quite recent and I know of another couple who are doing the same so their child can train on a higher intensity (and compete internationally in tournaments like Longines')," he notes. "It gives a new perspective to the game compared to previously when we would just play in our own comfort zones against other schools."
Setting a new record
Although Wong did not make it past the group stage in Paris, he did make Singapore proud by registering a win when he kicked off his campaign in style with a victory over Mexico's Luis Carlos Alvarez Valdez.
But playing on clay which he is not used to eventually led to him losing the subsequent three matches to India's Udit Gogoi, Thailand's Shisanuphong Pokinsagethasiri and Poland's Martyn Pawelski, who went on to become this year's overall champion.
Nonetheless, Wong finished fourth in his group and remains positive even after the back-to-back defeats. "I feel more confident on clay courts now - I like sliding - and want to play more on it if I have the chance," he says.
Clay courts are hard to come by in Singapore given the high maintenance cost and are unsuitable for our rainy climate.
On his experience playing in the Longines Future Tennis Aces tournament, Wong, who typically keeps a cool head during games, adds that he has also learnt to put a bit more aggression into his style of play: "I saw the others being aggressive so I copied them too."
Accompanying him for the tournament in the French capital were his parents and two siblings. His father William Wong shares that his other two children - 10-year-old Maximus and nine-year-old Abriez - are also local tennis champions in their respective age groups.
The real estate business owner says he got his kids into playing tennis because he was looking for something which the three of them could play together. But more than that, he feels sports is best for developing a child mentally and physically: "Through sports, you go through a lot of setbacks and that is how you mould one's character and mind - I always ask my kids what is the strongest weapon in their bodies and even my girl who is the youngest can tell me it's the mind."
There is even a healthy sense of sibling rivalry among the three children as the senior Wong reveals the younger ones are constantly trying to beat his or her older brother: "When I see them on the court, that's when I see the best in my children."
He shares that the children's training are all self-financed and he might eventually home-school his younger boy and girl too if they start taking part in more overseas competitions.
But he shrugs off suggestions that he wants them all to eventually turn pro: "You never know what's going to happen in the future - they might get injured or their interest might change like how someone told me their daughter gave up the sport after she had a boyfriend - so we try not to think that far.
The 50-year-old, who currently supervises his eldest child academically and is a sports fanatic himself, concludes: "We just hope that with tennis and good academic results, they can eventually get into an Ivy League university."
READ MORE: Winning time