The Sabah Lawn Tennis Association (SLTA) was formed in the year 1965 and duly registered on 24th June. Gordon Lum became the first president and Peter Yuen the treasurer. In the British North Borneo days tennis was a game of the European expartriates and some privileged locals.
Facilities were minimal and the game was not promoted. Once the association was formed however, local participation spiraled. Gordon Lum came from China. He was a top tennis player, having represented China in the Far Eastern Games which was held between China, Japan and the Philippines. He became champion beating Felicissimo Ampon the top player from the Philippines. He left for Hong Kong in the late 60s where he passed away.
Some of the well known players of those days were Peter Yuen, Colin Wu, Philip Stephens, D D Yue, Paul Math and Douglas Voon. Peter Yuen who was with the Income Tax Department took over the presidency of the SLTA in 1969 and held the post till 1972.
He is well past 60 now but still plays at fine game regularly. He was made a Patron of the SLTA in 1974. D D Yue lives in the US with his children and their families, but comes back regularly to Sandakan where he has remained a pillar of the association. Paul Math is now a prize winning vintage golfer in KK. Kingsley Pallant is 86, lives in Tawau with the trophies of Life and past achievements. He remains the only ambidexeterous tennis player in the world.
The SLTA for the period of the late 60s till mid 70s organized many state and pan Borneo tournaments. Firstly there was the Hone Cup games which became the Sabah Cup and now finally the Inter Divisional Team Championships. The Inter-Territorial Tournament remains unchanged.
In the late 60s till the early 70s Sabah had many fine players. Van Vu, Bing Vu, Daniel Kong, Tan Tze Wah, Peter Tsen, Ibrahim Ali and Sunny Daniel all became champions in either doubles or singles.
Daniel and Eng Weng Hong represented Sabah in the Negeri Sembilan and Johore Open in 1972. 1973 was a milestone and Len Benjamin was elected Hon Secretary and he introduced state-wide tournaments for ladies and veterans.
Junior championships were also introduced. Samarina Lee and Fatimah Ali dominated the championships and Ho San Yap of Tawau became the first Veterans singles champion. D D Yue and Brother Finian won the Doubles title. 1974 saw Sabah participating in the Chua Cup for the first time in PD. We lost in the first round to Perak.
Developing Sabah saw an influx of Japanese tennis players of whom we admired and learned. Two of them were outstanding. Nagao and Ide won most titles in the West Coast. In 1976, Gabriel Ho, Peter Lee, and KP Chong stood out among the veterans. Nora Amin became the ladies champion.
Datuk Benedict Shim was elected President of the SLTA which post he held until 1983. During his tenure and together with Len Benjamin, the SLTA made great strides. Every tournament was worked out and more properly planned.
The Ali brothers, Timothy Chin and Dr. Michael Jong dominated state tennis together with Nasarudin Bone and the young Alan Hoessein, all from Tawau. Mary McCosker and Jane Cassals also from Tawau won titles. Judy Chin made her first appearance, 1976 also saw the election of Dr Joe Yap as vice President of the SLTA. His contribution to the game has been continuous.
The last two years of the decade and the early 80s Sabah tennis was dominated by Dr. Michael Jong, Alan Quek and Raymond Lim in the men section, Julie Khoo in the ladies and Vivienne Quek in the juniors. Brother Michael Jee in the veterans section could outlast many youngsters in the sun. Malcolm Zoe remains a great artist till today. Harris Hassan had no equal in the junior boys section. Together with the Tawau boys and the remarkable crop of youngsters from Lahad Datu they clinched all the titles. Lahad Datu and Tawau continue to supply the junior talent for the SLTA till today.
Alan Quek needs special mention. A young man of talent and great determination he has won every title in Sabah and Borneo. Now in the USA we expect more from him soon.
In 1981, Sabah for the first time won the Inter-Territorial championship. Koh Yong Siang led the team and till day continues to lead the state team every time, most times to victory. Judy Chin distanced herself from the rest of the field throughout the early 80s. Competitive, wise and dedicated she has won every title.
Sandrik Parin and Charles Belen of Lahad Datu became title holders in the junior section. However, adult tennis was completely dominated by Sandakan. They produce an unlimited source of dedicated players in the men and ladies section. Benno Ong and Simon Wong took care of the rest after Koh had finished with them.
In the ladies, besides Judy Chin, they had Claire Math, Margaret Ng, Katherine Teo and Mrs. Chui. And now the emerging and new champion Gemma Marquez. During these years of the early 80s other players who shone included Lionel Tsen, Joseph Kong, Lo Shun Pun, Terry Lim, William Math, Tony ID Wong and Tony TK Wong.
From 1982 a new crop of juniors came on the scene. Coached from young, exposed and technique-oriented, they were hoped to carry the torch for Sabah for the next 15 years. Gemma Marquez, gutsy and fast, already a champion. Beverly Yap, at 15 already a multiple junior champion, graceful, correct and a charmer.
Tito Latoja, strong and tall; Joey Fiesta, cunning and improving; Robert Marquez, Borneo Juniors champion; Chua Soon Ming, co-ordinate and improving; Arthur Tonapa, strong and hardworking; Frankie Thien, enthusiastic and fast eyed and Franklin Yap the touch artist of immense potential. Much accent were placed on junior development from these years.
The SLTA enters 1984 and beyond invigorated. Dr Joe Yap becomes President. With 20 or more talented officials working with him, he will make tennis a spectator sport in Sabah in six years.
In the 1990s to 2007, there were several Presidents, namely, William Math, Datuk Ajin Majin, Datuk Pg. Hussien Tahir, Datuk Francis Yap, Abu Bakar Yahya, Alipah and Tang Yue.
2008 saw the election of Johnson Koh Yong Siang as the new President until now. Ngoh See Teng was the secretary serving under several Presidents. He was succeeded by Chin Khiam Kong, Ghani Affendy and Justin Liew who each served one term in office.
Players who had shown tennis prowess during this period included Tito Latoja, Baharuddin Ladoding, Jason Hiew and Fernando Rulloda.
Junior Development was given a big boost through the leadership of Ajit Mannan and dedicated coaches such as KK Chin, Rameer Hashim, Paul Lee, Tito Latoja, William Lo, Dzulkifli Awang, Walter Alex, Simon Wong and Fernando.
Veteran players who brought limelight to Sabah are Paul Lee and Johnson Koh. Among them, more than 10 national titles were won in the veteran age category of 45, 50 and 55. Koh was the more prolific winner.
It was during Johnson Koh’s presidency that the name of the Association was shortened to Sabah Tennis Association (STA). The team tennis invitational event which was introduced in 2008 was the brainchild of Johnson Koh. Several other tournaments were revived during Koh’s tenure as president.
All in, the tennis scene in Sabah continues to be packed with activities.