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Sunday
Jul022017

Crowdfunding a tennis champion

THE road to becoming a world champion in any sport is a very tough one. It requires plenty of sacrifices, training for many hours a day and giving up many of the leisure activities most kids take for granted. But beyond all that, it also takes a lot of money — to compete internationally and to train at top centres abroad.

Tennis champion Christian Didier Chin, 16, who has been training full-time for the past two years has set his sights on global success. To achieve that, he needs to raise funds and has adopted a rather unusual approach not yet tried by any athlete in Malaysia.

Christian talks to SAVVY about his complete dedication to tennis, the sacrifices he’s made, the dreams he has and his plan to raise money through crowdfunding.

HOW OLD WERE YOU WHEN YOU TOOK UP TENNIS AND WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THAT SPORT?

I was 10 when my dad introduced me to tennis. Before that, I was playing soccer a lot. My dad also loves soccer but he noticed that I’d come home sporting bruises all over my body or at times getting injured, every time I played soccer. He felt tennis would be a better sport for me as it would be less injurious to my body.

AT WHAT AGE DID YOU START PLAYING COMPETITIVE TENNIS?

Actually, having started at 10 was considered quite late. Many top players start at a much younger age. But I took to the sport quite fast and within two years I was producing some good results, winning national medals in the under-12 category. Later, I would do the same for under-14 and under-16 categories.

WHEN DID YOU START COMPETING INTERNATIONALLY?

My first international competition was at 13, when I started taking part in the Asian Tennis Federation (ATF) tournaments. By 14, I became the first Malaysian in the under-14 category to be No. 1 in the ATF rankings. At 15, I started competing in International Tennis Federation (ITF) tournaments. My current ITF ranking is 111, which is the highest any Malaysian player has ever reached but of course I’m not satisfied with that.

YOU ARE CURRENTLY TRAINING FULL-TIME. DOES THIS MEAN YOU DON’T GO TO SCHOOL?

Yes, that’s correct. I attended primary school in Kota Kinabalu and then at 13, when I got accepted at the Malaysian National Tennis Academy, I moved to Kuala Lumpur and studied at a school in Sri Hartamas. However, to really focus on my tennis, my dad and I decided it would be best for me to take a break from school for a couple of years. I will probably take the American SATs so I can attend college in the US. There are a few colleges with strong tennis programmes that have expressed interest in me but I will hold off college for the time being.

THAT’S QUITE A RISK YOU ARE TAKING, DON’T YOU THINK?

To achieve anything great you have to be willing to take risks. Taking a break from school was something my dad and I discussed at length and in the end he gave me his full support on this matter. I think 99 per cent of the parents out there would have said “focus on education” but my dad understood that in order for me to do well in tennis, I will need to train full time.

HOW LONG DO YOU TRAIN EVERY DAY?

On a typical day, I would train six to eight hours. So, you can say the court is my second home. I’m there all the time!

WAS IT TOUGH TRAINING FULL-TIME AT SUCH A YOUNG AGE?

Yes it was, at first. I trained with many seniors and got bullied in the beginning. I endured it and I think I’m stronger because of that.

DO YOU HAVE A SOCIAL LIFE?

I do have some friends who don’t play tennis but I don’t have a lot of time to spend with them. You could say I’m missing out on a lot of things kids my age are doing but to achieve success you need to make sacrifices. I must say that although at times it can feel a bit lonely, the sense of accomplishment and the authority I feel on court make it all worthwhile.

YOU ARE CURRENTLY RANKED 111TH. WHAT ARE YOUR TARGETS FOR THE COMING YEAR?

I hope to be in the Top 50 by year’s end and by end-2018, I hope to crack the Top 10.

WHAT DO YOU FEEL ARE YOUR CHANCES FOR THE UPCOMING KUALA LUMPUR SEA GAMES?

I’m confident. On a good day, and assuming I’m not injured, I think I can beat anyone in Southeast Asia. At the KL Open last year, I was the youngest player there but I managed to make it to the finals where I narrowly lost to Thailand’s Nuttanon Kadchapanan who is a lot older than I am. That’s nearly a year ago. I’ve improved a lot since then. I’m excited about the SEA Games.

ARE YOU ABLE TO GET THE RIGHT TYPE OF TRAINING IN MALAYSIA?

Unfortunately no. We don’t have the right kind of facilities and training opportunities here for tennis. It’s not like in the case of badminton where we have world-class training centres and top players. I need to train on different court surfaces like hard courts, indoor courts, clay courts and grass courts.

In Malaysia, we have hard courts at the academy and grass courts in Penang but that’s all. I also don’t have the right training partners to spar with. To really excel I’d need to train at one of the top centres in the US, France or Spain.

HOW MUCH DOES IT COST TO TRAIN AND COMPETE AT THE HIGHEST LEVEL?

I’d need to compete in at least 24 tournaments a year and to train at one of the top centres abroad. I figure the total amount would range between RM300,000 and RM350,000 per year.

YOU PLAN TO RAISE FUNDS THROUGH CROWDFUNDING. HOW DID THAT COME ABOUT?

It was suggested to me by the Lawn Tennis Association of Malaysia. The folks at Ata Plus, a local online crowdfunding platform, is helping me out with this. Normally, they do this for entrepreneurs but the concept can be applied to sports too, so we are giving it a try.

WHAT IS YOUR MESSAGE FOR POTENTIAL DONORS?

I will make you proud one day when I become the first Malaysian tennis player to compete and win at the World ATP Grand Slam tournaments.

With your support and sponsorship, I am confident I can achieve this within the next 10 years. Thank you for helping to make it possible for me to pursue my dreams.

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