What were you doing when you were 8? My memory is vague but not too far from between getting whacked and playing catching. When Shaheed Alam was 8, he had already won three U10 National Tennis titles. Shaheed walks us through his story below – one of a path less travelled, and one that he chose.
“If you want to achieve what others can’t, you have to do what others won’t”
When Shaheed was 14, then studying at St Andrew’s School, he took a gap year to eat, sleep, breathe, think and train tennis. (again what was I doing at 14? Asking girls for numbers maybe) It was a life-changing decision. The academic progress that he gave up brought Shaheed clarity on what he (really) wanted – a single-minded devotion and commitment to train and compete without worrying unduly about studies. On returning to Singapore, the Saint had decided to join Singapore Sports School.
For as long as Shaheed can remember, one of the first and last thing he sees everyday is his tennis racket. He packs his loyal companion into his training bag at 6am and puts it back only after returning home late at night. His anthem might very well be, “with my racket, and my court and me!”
Raining the whole day? That ain’t gonna stop us. Grateful to have indoor courts! These are days when I wake up at 6am, spend my morning on the courts, having lessons from 12-230pm, back on the courts from 3-5pm, before getting back for lessons again from 730-930pm! Sounds like a pretty hectic schedule, but for tennis, I’m nowhere near giving up. Onward to the SEA Games this August! #readyforKL #oneteamsg #sergiotacchini #headtennis #solinco #activesg #ONEathlete #runONE #ONEnationtogether @KualaLumpur2017 📸: @sherwin211
With typical teenage nonchalance, Shaheed sees his tennis ambitions in black-and-white. When asked about how he feels about his more ‘carefree’ peers, Shaheed simply shrugs it off. “You really can’t, and shouldn’t compare. Tennis is my choice and for all the pain it’s worth I think tennis helps me bring the best out of myself.”
Besides the physical demands of performing at a professional level in tennis, Shaheed have also had times when, like anyone of us, he had to depend on others for support and assistance.
So when Shaheed’s coach left in 2016, it was a loss which left its toll on him and his game. For a player who, just one year earlier, had made ITF Junior history by being the first Singaporean male player to win an ITF Junior Singles title, rough was an understatement.
However, Shaheed kept chugging along because he knew that the game was not just about himself. “I did not want to disappoint my family, especially my father, who had supported and encouraged me all these while. I also wanted to show the younger tennis players, through my actions, that the game is never lost until you tell yourself it is.” It was evident that Shaheed’s family was a strong pillar of support in his endeavours.
Speaking with Shaheed left me a mixed bag of feelings.
He exuded this enviable and infectious rush of youthful ambition, like any 18-year old would, and his eyes would light up when he spoke about his debut as Team Singapore contingent at the 2015 SEA Games opening ceremony. “That immense pride and joy. It’s a feeling no one can take away from me”
At the same time, I wonder if I had the opportunity that Shaheed had, would I have had the courage to follow in his footsteps. Now my time has passed, but not for Shaheed who is determined to make the best of God’s gift to him. So far, 2017 seems to be getting off well for Shaheed who earned his first ATP point during the ITF Pro Circuit Tournaments held earlier in Singapore.
Andre Agassi once lamented the loneliness of being a professional player. “The fact that tennis is, for the most part, an individual sport throws up its own set of challenges. People sometimes mention the track-and-field runner as a comparably lonely figure… At least the runner can feel and smell his opponents. They’re inches away. In tennis, you’re an island.”
When Shaheed returns to the court at the 2017 SEA Games, it’ll be him against himself. new Shaheed versus old Shaheed. And he believes he will be prepared for it.