Tim Thomas Gauntlett has a singular goal – to become the first tennis player from Hong Kong to win a Grand Slam.
He wants this so much, in fact, that he was willing to give up the one thing Hongkongers value above all else – school.
“I’ve been home-schooled for the past two years while also training full-time at the Hua Tan Tennis Academy in Taiwan,” explained the 14-year-old, who previously attended International Christian College. “An online schedule makes it much better for my tennis ... I can just work at night or after training, and it’s so much more convenient.
“Now that I don’t have to worry about going to school, I’ve been able to take my game to a new level.”
Tim, who has been in love with the sport ever since he started playing it at the age of four, has been splitting time training at the Hong Kong Sports Institute and his tennis academy in Taiwan. His dedication has paid off: he has become one of Hong Kong’s top young tennis prospects. He won the national 2017 U14 championships, the U16 championships this year, and even made the finals of the U18 championships competing with older players.
“In Taiwan I get so much more time to train,” explained Tim. “Now I train around eight hours a day, whereas when I was going to school in Hong Kong I could only train for around three hours.”
He added that there is a significant difference between Hong Kong and Taiwan in terms of sports culture.
“Hong Kong has many talented players, but because everyone cares so much about their studies, they get really tired after school. I think it’s a big problem. In Taiwan, people take sports a lot more seriously.”
But the eight hours of training can be excessive at times, said Tim. “It’s probably a little bit too much, to be honest,” he added with a smile. “I usually do drills all morning, match play in the afternoon, then finish off with some strength and conditioning work. It’s absolutely exhausting.
“But it’s all right because I love this sport and I enjoy playing it every day.”
Tim said he has an “aggressive” style, like his idol Roger Federer. “I love hitting the ball hard and making my opponents run,” he said.
But like with almost everything in life, his tennis career has been full of ups and downs.
From helping Hong Kong make the Junior Davis Cup World finals in April, which he called the proudest moment of his career, he’s also had his fair share of difficult moments, including being forced to forfeit a game last year due to cramps.
“I was playing in a big international tournament in Thailand against a top-200 ranked U18 player in the world, and I had the game completely under control,” he said. “But it was about 36 degrees and I had to forfeit after the third set, because I didn’t want to injure myself. It was so frustrating.”
Tim doesn’t let his failures define him, though, and he was able to bounce back because of the confidence he has in his own abilities. And that’s his advice to other young tennis players: “Just keep working hard and believing in yourself, because if you don’t believe you can do it, then it’s impossible,” he said. “If you have the talent and you have the desire, you can make it in this sport.”