Tennis keeps Tina on her toes

Fadhil Yunus

Brunei Darussalam tennis star Tina Osman has long been featured on the courts of the National Tennis Centre of the Hassanal Bolkiah National Sports Complex, enjoying a colourful chapter of the sport in the country at the end of the 1990s.

The national female athlete’s rise to success catapulted her to the echelons of the country’s sporting history, which is evident from her list of achievements during a storied career.

Since her early beginnings, Tina’s parents have always supported her to excel in a sport. Tennis was not a sudden decision but slowly and surely, the sport became her calling and her grip on the racket tightened ever since.

“I did not choose the sport when I was eight years old. My parents were sport enthusiasts so they got me to do swimming, martial arts and then tennis,” said Tina.

“Being a kid, I’d do anything. So I started with tennis and I had many things going on. My dad saw my potential and let me stay focussed in tennis,” she said. “I did not fall in love with tennis until I turned 11. Then I realised that tennis was the sport that I wanted to excel in.”

During this time, Tina travelled to Southeast Asian cities such as Jakarta, Bandung and Singapore to play in international junior tournaments.

“Throughout my teenage life, I travelled a lot. I also skipped school a lot but of course with permission from the government. My parents were supportive of me playing tennis and I was a determined kid.”

Tina, who grew up in Panaga in the Belait District, was coached by Tony Japay, who oversaw her progress in the sport from the ages of nine to 17.

Tina Osman on the court. PHOTO: TINA OSMAN

There was a tinge of excitement in the country’s tennis scene as a healthy rivalry existed between the Brunei-Muara based and Belait tennis players.

This later resulted in Tina being integrated into the national team after one of the coaches spotted her talents.

Her coach was approached by one of the national coaches inquiring about Tina’s availability to join the national scheme.

With her parents’ support, she joined the national scheme at the tender age of 12. As her junior career took off, her parents launched efforts to help her train in Thailand.

“I’m thankful because they managed to send me for personal training in Thailand just to go under the scheme to improve. It was an experience to meet players from other countries.”

As a teenager, Tina attended training on the court six days a week mainly in Panaga and trained for three hours in Bandar every Saturday with her rest day on Sunday.

“My dad booked the court for me. My mom and dad were really involved in the sport,” said Tina.

“My dad did a lot of research and reading on training when I was growing up, especially on how to make me stronger and how to be agile on the court.”

“I was in the backyard garden doing all kinds of fitness-related activities and trained six days a week.”

Her experiences of going to the gym and the work outside of the tennis court would put her in good stead as her tennis career unfolded.

“My teenage years had a lot of influence. Back then when I was a kid, I had no idea why they (my parents) pushed me to do all those workouts,” she said.

“As I grew, I realised the work outside of the tennis court is very important. Even if I’m not in the tennis court, I will be outside in the backyard and my dad could get me a medicine ball.”

Tina was part of the Panaga junior girls’ team in 1995 and was also involved in a junior friendly match against Malaysia.

“Since 1997 when I was 13, I was actually competing in the Brunei national ranking women’s tournament. There were a lot of players back then including my Southeast Asian (SEA) Games teammates.”

“I was the youngest so I looked up to Salbiah (Arwan) because she was a very determined player.

“Whenever there was a national ranking tournament, my mom and dad just signed me up.

“I kept playing and the more you play the more points you accumulate. And you can climb up the ladder.”

Tina took her career to new heights when she crossed paths with the country’s former ladies number one Linnah Lim, who was seen as the player to beat.

“When I saw her, she looked like Steffi Graf. I was 13 and of course I was going to look up
to her.”

The country witnessed arguably the most celebrated period in tennis with a lot of competitors especially in the women’s draw.

In 1997, Tina cemented her status as the country’s top ranked player.

“I knew I had to beat Linnah to get the ranking. If I’m not mistaken, I needed to outscore her by 100 points. It’s a Brunei national ranking tournament.”

Under the bright flashlights of the centre court at the National Tennis Centre, Tina overcame the experienced Linnah during their first encounter to obtain the number one ranking.

“Being a 13-year-old, I was really nervous. My mom and dad were there and they told me that I have nothing to lose and that I was playing the best player in Brunei.”

The match – a final – proved to be one of the proudest moments in Tina’s career as she emerged victorious in straight sets 6-2, 6-4.

Tina enjoyed constant success in the national scene especially the Freme Travel Open Ladies Single Tennis Tournament where she won consecutively from 1997 to 2001. She also defeated top women’s tennis player in Panaga at that time Chris Hyde for her maiden triumph in May 1997.

As Brunei’s reigning number one, Tina was selected to represent the country in the 1999 SEA Games on home soil where she played in the mixed double’s event.

Her fondest memory in the sport was obtaining a junior world ranking of 460 recognised by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) in the Philippines in 2000, which was made possible after winning a few rounds.

In 2003, Tina moved to Australia having previously attempted to obtain a scholarship in the United States (US) in the hopes of playing collegiate tennis. “I had to sit for SATs and it took me six months to study for it. I succeeded in maths but not English, so there was no professional tennis for me.”

With her move to Australia, she had her sights set on pursuing a coaching stint, and obtained the Tennis Pro Coach Level 1 certified by Tennis Australia.

Later on in her career, Tina changed her serve after a player she sparred with noticed how she made the move on the court. “I was trying to figure out what the routine was. My serve was alright but I only managed to refine it properly when I was in Australia.

“Nobody could tell me what it was until someone noticed that I’m using a lot of my shoulder, which was why I was getting a lot of shoulder ache,” she said.

“I had body movement but I was not using much of my back. In tennis, you have to throw your back. He saw it and there was just one thing I needed to change. It was just one small tweak and everything worked. And everything felt so good.”

Tina shared that the forehand is her most favourite part of the game, with her peers having acknowledged it as an apparent threat that she possesses on the court.

“Everyone told me that I have a killer forehand. I didn’t notice it until they kept on talking
about it.”