After four years in the United States, tennis player Stefanie Tan has finally come home. Her homecoming marks the end of her college years and the beginning of her return to the tennis circuit here. The 23-year-old tennis player might have gone off the radar for awhile, but she's announcing her return in a big way by playing in the 28th South East Asian Games. "I've had a lot of exposure the past four years in the United States and I'm excited to come back and play in front of the home crowd," shares Tan.
One could say her enthusiasm for the sport was seeded from a very young age. Tan picked up the racket at the tender age of four under the guidance of her uncle and first tennis coach Mike Tan, and hasn't looked back since. Her head start in the sport, combined with her fiercely competitive streak, has seen her topping the Singaporean Open numerous times before representing Singapore in the singles division at the inaugural Youth Olympic Games in 2010.
Even though Tan spent the past four years working hard to complete her MBA at Texas Christian University, she never quite left the sport. The tennis ace continued to develop her game, representing her college as the top singles player while leading her team to a top-20 ranking on the National Collegiate Athletic Association circuit.
This time round, she'll be leading a four-member squad at the upcoming SEA Games while gunning for individual glory on the singles front. Asked if she viewed her absence from the scene here as a disadvantage, Tan said: "It's good in some ways as nobody knows what to expect, so that gives me a real edge in the competition." One thing's for certain: all eyes will be upon her as she makes her homecoming debut at the SEA Games.
Tell us about your earliest memory of the sport.
I remember the first match I ever played in because I didn't win the game and I came out in tears. That was when I was seven.
What do you consider your first milestone to be?
Scoring an International Tennis Federation ranking at the junior level when I was 13 or 14. That was my first stepping stone to the international circuit. After I received my ranking, I had the opportunity to travel a lot more to other tournaments.
What goes through your mind when you step into the court?
I try to focus more on myself than the opponent. I find that I get carried away when I think about too many other things so I try really hard to stay within myself by focusing on my footwork and breathing. It helps when I keep to my own routine. Little things like placing my water bottle at an exact spot might sound very OCD but it makes such a big difference to me.
Who's the first person you call after a match?
My coach Boyan Hadjisotirov. He's from Bulgaria and I spent most of my developmental stage with him. I've trained with him since I was 16 and he's almost like a best friend to me. I talk to him all the time, even when I'm in America.
What goals have you set for yourself at the upcoming SEA Games?
Everybody's focused on the individual singles at the moment. Even though the competition from the region's quite tough, I would love to get a medal.
What do you have planned after the SEA Games?
I'm looking to play a few more tournaments right after the SEA Games and take part in more open events in Australia and France. As much as I would love to keep playing tennis, it's going to be difficult on the financial front. Without any sponsors I don't think the dream can go on. However, I feel like I've been training in tennis for so long that I should keep on a roll till I'm burnt out and ready to move on to the next phase of my life.
Watch Stefanie play at the tennis competition held at the Kallang Tennis Centre from 6 to 14 June. For more information, visit the official website of the 28th Southeast Asian Games
Photography: Vanessa Caitlin
Fashion direction: Norman Tan
Styling assistance: Pakkee Tan
Hair and makeup: Marie Genevieve Jessie Soh