Author : Phiilip Goh

Tennis prodigy Ethan Lye’s aspirations to turn professional took another step forward after his parents accepted a scholarship offer for him from the Van Der Meer Tennis Academy in the United States.

The scholarship, which covers 75 per cent of the US$20,000 (S$25,000) annual cost for tennis training, is for an initial one-year term and will be up for renewal based on Ethan’s performance and progress. The scholarship does not include accommodation, school and living expenses.

The family will be relocating to the US in July next year as the scholarship starts in August.

The offer came after Ethan’s mother, Vera Lye, carried out an information-gathering exercise in October to prepare for a meeting with the Singapore Sports Council officials.

“I’d contacted several academies to find out about costs, training schedules and structure as we need to elevate Ethan’s training,” said Vera, 43.

She wrote to the Bollettieri, Mouratoglou and Sanchez-Casal academies, among others, but it was the Van Der Meer Academy in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, that replied on Nov 18 with an initial offer of a substantial scholarship after looking at Ethan’s curriculum vitae and videos of his play.

Sixteen days later, the deal was sealed and it will see Ethan coming under the tutelage and scrutiny of a roster of coaches that include South African former world No 27 Marcos Ondruska and ATP-ranked doubles specialist Tommy Shimada of Japan.

Ethan, 12, one of Singapore’s brightest tennis talents, made his debut in the Asian Tennis Federation’s under-14 circuit, reaching the quarter-finals.

According to former Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) professional Beier Ko, Van Der Meer is well-respected in the tennis industry.

“Ethan will train with peers that will challenge him to get better and be immersed in a tennis culture that will fuel his aspirations,” she said. “Also, there are lots of tennis events and tournaments there so it will be a good environment for Ethan.”

The scholarship would mean another relocation for the Lye family — they moved to Chiang Mai in June last year for Ethan as there are more junior tournaments in Thailand — with Vera and 14-year-old daughter Sasha set to accompany Ethan to Hilton Head.

Ethan’s father Moses, who is Vice-President of MediaCorp’s events arm VizPro, will stay in Singapore.

“The quantum of the Van Der Meer scholarship may not be big for now, but they believe in Ethan’s potential and are willing to invest in his development,” said Vera.

“For them to take Ethan at such a young age and to see him as a long-term investment gives us the confidence that we’re on the right path, even if it means moving to an academy half a world away.”