Mohd Aiman Abdullah (L) and national tennis coach Fan Po Hoa posing for a photo at the 2009 Borneo Games held in Brunei. Aiman reached the last-eight of a tournament in Singapore last month. Picture: BT file
Mohd Aiman Abdullah's sacrifice and hard work has paid off with his second quarter-final finish in as many tournaments in Singapore.
Aiman, who is the country's only touring player and dreams to become the first Bruneian to get an ATP world ranking, reached the last-eight of last month's Singapore Tennis Association (STA) Open Singles & Doubles IV after beating No. 6 seed Stuart Oldham 6-2, 6-1 in his third match.
He started off with a 6-0, 6-0 win over Aden Chen at the Sept 21-29 event before beating Nathaniel Ghui 6-0, 6-0 in the second round. He faced Abadia Adelo after beating Oldham in the third round, but was denied a place in the semi-finals after going down 3-6, 6-2, 6-2 to the eventual champion.
It was the second time as many tournaments that Aiman lost to an eventual champion after being sent packing 6-2, 6-2 by Logan McKenzie in the quarter-finals of his last tournament, the Prince Pesta Sukan Open/Veteran Tennis Championships 2013 in Singapore in July.
His win over Oldham was the third time he beat one of the tournament favourites in Singapore, shocking No. 1 seed Shoki Kasahara 1-6, 7-6 (4), 7-5 in the first round of the STA Open Singles and Doubles 1 in January and No. 4 seed Harold Lowe 6-2, 6-2 in the second round of the Prince Pesta Sukan Open in July.
Aiman reached the third round (last-16) in January and the quarter-finals in July, with last month's result cementing his status as one of the names to watch out for on the Singapore circuit.
It hasn't been an easy road though.
Aiman has had to juggle his time between training in the mornings, coaching in the evenings and studying at Laksamana College of Business at night, where the 21-year-old will graduate with an Advanced Diploma in Business in December.
His travels this year - last month's tournament was his fifth international outing of 2013 - have mostly been self-funded, using his savings to pay for the cost of flying, staying and playing abroad - where he is accompanied by national coach Fan Po Hoa.
He won't have it any other way though.
"It's tough but this is what I want to do," said Aiman yesterday.
"As you know, I don't have any sponsors and I've had to fund myself for most of the trips.
"So in order for me to keep touring I need to work harder and save more. Coach has also come forward with food and accommodation so all I need to think of is airfare and allowance.
"If not for him, I don't think we'd have travelled as much. Coach has to take a lot of the credit because he has done all this without asking for anything in return," added Aiman.
Despite his loss to Adelo, Aiman still rates the trip a success.
The fact that Aiman was the only player to avoid a straight set defeat to Adelo during the tournament was not lost on Fan, who also said that the Filipino was a Davis Cup player who once stretched former Thai World No. 9 Paradorn Srichaphan to five sets.
And as Aiman pointed out, it was this high-quality experience that earned Adelo the win.
"Once again, another loss to another champion," said Aiman.
"I played the first set as usual and executed the game plan that coach and I discussed over before the game.
"But he (Adelo) has a lot of experience and he didn't panic after losing the first game.
"He raised his game one or two levels in the second set - I didn't.
"I wasn't fast enough to react to that. When I realised it, it was already at the end of the second set.
"I'm still happy with my performance because I can see that I have been improving in every tournament I've competed in this year. Next time if I play him, I'll know what to expect and I should also be able to recognise when to raise my game in future matches.
"Sometimes, it's just the small things that you need to do," he added.
Former Singaporean junior national coach, Fan agreed that Aiman has been improving over the past year, with his touring experience resulting in more consistent results and a burgeoning reputation in Singapore.
"Based on his playing ability. I can say he is in the top-5 bracket in Singapore," said Fan.
"Our aim at the start of the year was to break into the top-10 official rankings in Singapore, and from no ranking in January, he is now 11th - so he's knocking on the door.
"He has been doing this (touring) pretty much on his own (funds) and I help when I can with food and accommodation.
"If he didn't do something like this he won't be able to chase his dream. So whatever obstacles are in our way, we won't let that destroy our dreams," he insisted.
Both player and coach ended the interview by thanking the Department of Youth and Sports, Brunei Darussalam Tennis Association and their respective families for all their support.