In 1978, a joint congressional resolution established Asian/Pacific American Heritage Week. The first 10 days of May were chosen to coincide with two important milestones in Asian/Pacific American history: the arrival in the United States of the first Japanese immigrants (May 7, 1843) and contributions of Chinese workers to the building of the transcontinental railroad (completed May 10, 1869). In 1992, Congress expanded the observance to a month-long celebration.
We at the USTA Northern California are proud to have such a diverse population, which includes a large population of Asian/Pacific Americans. To celebrate them, we chose to reach out to two accomplished Asian Americans from the NorCal section to see how tennis has impacted their lives, as well as to see how their rich ethnic heritage has inspired them.
Please tells us your personal story – how & why did you get into tennis, the steps you took to get where you are today, etc.
SEAN – Four and a half years ago, when I first started playing tennis, I was also doing two other sports – soccer (for three years on D3/Bronze team) and Tae-Kwon-Do (one year red-black belt and on black belt training). As a tennis beginner with some basic ground stroke, serve, and volley, 2008 March I played my very first USTA tournament - B12 Novice and won the first place trophy. Around that time due to schedule conflict, I had to choose among soccer, Tae-Kwon-Do, and tennis. And I chose tennis because I believe I could learn different kind of life lessons from this individual sport which is very different from team sports. And most of all, I just fall in love with tennis. It brings me truckloads of fun from playing with my friends.
STEPHANIE – I picked up the tennis racket around the age of 8. I went to the hospital frequently because my body was weak and I was sick all the time. It was during the summer of 2003, my family and I visited my grandfather (a doctor in China). He would go play tennis every morning and he would pull me along with him to go to the tennis courts every day. One day, my grandfather told me to try out this awesome sport to help me to get healthier. I gave it a try, and I already wanted to quit. I thought this sport was just not for me and it was just really difficult. But, every since I was young, I loved trying new things and loved to challenge myself in every way I could. I didn’t give up tennis and I gave it more tries because I realized my health was gradually improving.
The month that I visited my grandfather, he helped find me a coach and signed me up for lessons so I could learn the proper technique from the start. Eventually I fell in love with tennis. As years progressed, I took lessons in the US and signed up for tournaments that were close to home. Sooner later, I realized the good affects of tennis that has changed me. Tennis has made me a mentally stronger person, become a more responsible person, and a healthier one as well. I have to balance homework and tennis together, which is never an easy thing to do. I might have to do a project and homework for 6 classes over the weekend that’s due the coming Monday, but there is a tournament that I signed up for. I would have to be really on task and do the work when I can and not waste my time. My last option would be doing it in the dark in the car with my flashlight while driving back late after my matches.
What does it mean to you to be an Asian American?
SEAN – I am lucky and blessed to have the chance to absorb both Asian and American cultures.
STEPHANIE – To me be an Asian American is something I’m proud of. I’m proud of who I am, and where I am in life.
Have you ever visited the country from which your heritage or ethnicity has its roots? What was it like, and how has that impacted you as an Asian American?
SEAN – Yes. I visited my grandparents in Taiwan during summers. There are not many public tennis courts there, nor tennis players. Namely, tennis is not as popular as baseball and basketball in Taiwan.
STEPHANIE – Yes, I visited China before. I got to experience everything while I was there. I went to the many cities, including the capital, and visited the Great Wall of China. The food is magnificent and you cannot experience it anywhere else, but in China. I really love China’s history. The culture is different, since they have history over 4000 years. However, China is a much different place than the US; it’s more crowded, the air is not that clean, and it’s not as sanitary as the US because of the pollution. As an Asian American, I’m happy where I am right now and I wouldn’t change a thing.
There aren’t too many professional Asian tennis players, let alone ones that make it to the top ten or into the spotlight – how has that affected you as an Asian American tennis player?
SEAN – Instead of top ten, let’s take a look at the most current ATP ranking top 100, there are only one (Lu) from Taipei, Taiwan, and three from Japan, only two from Canada, two from Australia, and seven from United States. The rest are mostly from Europe, South America, and Russia. Interesting….
In Asia, tennis and soccer are not as popular as baseball and basketball. But in recent years, China had been promoting tennis a lot, and the result remains to be seen. As an Asian American I am lucky to have chance to play these two sports in my childhood. However, being tennis pro is a whole very different journey. It requires physical development, training, and financial support/sponsorship…etc. How many top ten professional Swiss tennis players have there ever been? Three. Roger Federer, Stan Wawrinka and Martina Hingis. The point is that becoming a professional tennis player, regardless of ancestry origin, is very difficult. This knowledge gives me realistic optimism. There is always hope there is always a chance, but all anyone can do is control what he or she has. I just had my 15th birthday, for now I would just put my feet on the ground and humbly improve my tennis and enjoy the games.
STEPHANIE – Li Na from China, for example, has really inspired me. She was the first Asian women to win a Singles Grand Slam in history of tennis. It shows that if she can win a grand slam, so can other Asian Americans can. This can apply to almost anything, from tennis to becoming a politician. If she can succeed and accomplish her goals, so can I.
Who would you say are your biggest Asian/Asian American role models, either inside or outside of your tennis career? (Ex: parents, teachers, coaches, etc.)
SEAN – Linsanity - Jeremy Lin who was just selected as the number one of 2012 TIME 100 Most Influential People. I wish I can play tennis like Linsanity plays basketball. Also Michael Chang, who won the French Open in 1989 at age of 17, and was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2008. Jeremy's and Michael’s stories debunk so many of the prejudices and stereotypes and teach us that if we show grit, discipline and integrity, we can get an opportunity to overcome the odds.
STEPHANIE – I would say my biggest role model would be my parents. They are how I want to be when I grow up. They are always there to support me, give me confidence, and encourage me every ways they can, whether the situation is bad or good.
What are you most proud of/what do you consider to be your biggest accomplishment in your tennis career?
SEAN – Ending the 2011 year as #1 in the Boy’s 14’s single (for five months) and #2 in doubles, and being able to play Pacific Cup, playing in zonal team "Thunderbirds" and won the West Zone. Also being rated five stars by Tennis Recruiting for my class of 2015, and receiving seven Sportsmanship Awards last year.
STEPHANIE – I am most proud of what I can do today. I would say that my biggest accomplishment in my tennis career is when I beat someone that no one expects me to win against. When I play a match and I am able to pull the match off a close one, I feel really good about it. A match takes a lot of concentration and energy, and in close matches, pressure is added throughout the games. "Pressure is a privilege" as Billy Jean King would say. Pressure adds fun and excitement to the game and that’s one aspect of the game that I love.
How do you envision the future of tennis, in particular to the participation of Asian Americans? How do you aspire to be a part of it?
SEAN – The future of tennis looks bright. I see more and more Asian Americans playing tennis socially, competitively, self improvement etc. Technology is changing rapidly, players are becoming smarter and more self aware. It's a great time to be a part of the sport. In the future I would like to share my enthusiasm with other people to promote the game on all levels. This game is truly the sport of a lifetime that ascends beyond junior tennis. One thing that I would like to be a part of is the promotion and initiation of Red Clay Tennis Courts. It's a deficiency in America that has been overlooked for too long (Look at the top three pro players, they all grew up on Red Clay).
STEPHANIE – I envision the future of tennis to have wide range of diversity playing, specially a lot more of Asian Americans. I aspire to be part of it because I grew up being an Asian American and hopefully in the near future, more and more Asian Americans could experience the same things that I can experience today.
What advice would you give to up-and-coming, future Asian American tennis players?
SEAN – Continue to work whatever they are working and developing on, enjoy the process, focus on what really matters to themselves, and eventually, the result will come along.
STEPHANIE – The advice that I would give to up and coming, future Asian American Tennis players would be to not give up on something truly amazing. Tennis is a wonderful sport and it takes a lot of effort to play this sport. Tennis is not just a physical game, but also a mental game as well. Tennis will help those in the long run; I would know because it made me a better and healthier person. So continue to do what you love and something good will happen in your life.