Playing at Australian Open a ‘great experience’ for Bill Chan, 17, Latest Tennis News - The New Paper

Playing at Australian Open a ‘great experience’ for Bill Chan, 17

MELBOURNE – In his first Grand Slam, Bill Chan, 17, wisely did what any junior player should. He soaked it in. He took a picture with the great Gael Monfils. He found himself a ticket to watch Carlos Alcaraz. And he went to observe the art of his hero, Novak Djokovic, at practice.

If Djokovic moves fast, then so – in manner of speaking – does Bill, who became the first Singaporean to make it to the Australian Open junior championships. Last July, Chan, once a kid from Anglo-Chinese School (Independent), was ranked No. 577 in the ITF junior rankings. This year, having rocketed to world No. 63, he is worthy of a competitor’s pass in the main draw of the boys’ junior doubles.

“It’s a great experience,” he says. “Because honestly I didn’t see myself in this position many times.” 

Bill played alongside Peruvian Luis Jose Nakamine and, as often happens in doubles, they arranged their partnership three days prior. The duo lost a tight match in the super tie-break, 6-2, 3-6, 10-8 to Kaylun Bigun and Jagger Leach, an American pair who held a slight advantage in pedigree. Leach’s mum, you see, is former world No. 1 Lindsay Davenport.

Bill, who lost in the final round of the boys singles qualifiers, was introduced as a boy to an array of pursuits by his parents. Tennis took his fancy.

Now he schools online and is based in the Belgian town of Hasselt under the sharp gaze of tennis coach Philippe Gelade, fitness coach Jonas Wallens and mental coach Pieter Michiels. In a global, harshly competitive sport, he needs every piece of sophisticated help he can find.

Roughly 1.8m tall now and very polite, Bill, who describes an earlier version of himself as “short”, is an altered competitor. “I used to take the ball really early because I was pretty talented. I used a lot of my timing.” But exposure brings wisdom and now he says, “as you grow up that doesn’t really work so well. You need to work a little bit harder to win points, you need to play differently, play a little bit smarter”.

Belgium has been his education. “I started training (there) on clay court and that helped my game a lot because the clay-court game is totally different. You have to play from the back a little bit more and it’s a lot more physical. My game has changed in the sense that I’ve gotten a lot faster. I would say I’m an all-rounder. I’m pretty confident from the baseline.”

Bill will soon be thrust into the unforgiving world of senior tennis but first he plans to go to college and “after that I’m really open to going pro”. Till then he’s doing what the game requires, sweating five to six days a week and imitating his steely role model who hails from Serbia.

“Out of everyone on tour I feel like (Djokovic) works the hardest. His mental strength is insane.” He even went looking for the Serb, hoping for a selfie, but Djokovic had gone and the moment had passed.

Practice will take Bill places, but what he requires is sponsorship. Tennis comes with a cost – from strings to flights to coaches – and while his peers of his ranking have sponsorships, he only has one. “Just my parents,” he quips. “Singapore is not a country that’s so big on tennis.”

Till he waits for his talent to be supported, he’s doing the only thing within his control. Inspiring himself. Which means sitting in Rod Laver Arena and watching a young master at work. “(Alcaraz) is an amazing player. Watching him up close teaches me things I can’t learn anywhere else. It’s a huge privilege.”