Siblings Oscar and Candy Wai have swapped Hong Kong for Ipswich in pursuit of becoming tennis professionals.

The teenagers, aged 18 and 17 respectively, were rising stars in their Chinese homeland, with Oscar a nationally supported player who represented Hong Kong in the 2019 Junior Davis Cup.

A strict and relentless training schedule meant that both suffered from a multitude of injuries. All that has changed, however, since the pair relocated to Suffolk.

"I came here first in 2020 during Covid with the intention of starting at Culford School," explains Candy. "I arrived with so many injuries - ankle, shin splints, elbows, shoulder... Then I met Nino (Severino) when competing in a tournament at Ipswich Sports Club."

Severino, a nationally-renowned strength and conditioning coach, is the man who managed to help Elena Baltacha navigate a similar catalogue of injuries and become Britain's No.1 ranked female player. The pair ended up becoming a couple, marrying in 2013 before 'Bally' tragically died of liver cancer just a few months later.

East Anglian Daily Times: Nino Severino (centre) has taken Oscar and Candy Wai under his wing.Nino Severino (centre) has taken Oscar and Candy Wai under his wing. (Image: CHarlotte Bond)

"I saw Candy play and I just thought 'wow'," says Severino. "Then I got talking to her and her mother and her situation reminded me in a lot of ways about Bally.

"So that's when we offered to put her together a programme."

The 'we' Severino refers to his team at 'The Hub'. It's a group of specialist coaches who help a variety of athletes make gains in their sports through technical, fitness, nutrition and wellbeing advice. Those involved includes former Ipswich Town Football Club physio Jimmy Reynolds and a link to Ipswich Sports Club tennis coach Josh Tree.

Candy, training at Ipswich Sports Club and St Joseph's College, made quick progress under their tutelage. That convinced Oscar, who was struggling with a wrist problem, to follow over to the UK with their father as the whole family were reunited.

Oscar has just won four Grade Three tournaments in a row and should soon have a British ranking. Candy is set to start playing women's tournaments after beating several top-20 British ranked players in her age group.

East Anglian Daily Times: Candy Wai is currently doing her A-Levels at Copleston High School.Candy Wai is currently doing her A-Levels at Copleston High School. (Image: CHarlotte Bond)

“I love the culture here," says the smiley and polite Candy, who is now doing her A-Levels at Copleston High School in order to stay based in Ipswich.

"The training style is very different. The coaches here are friendly! That’s not to say they aren’t friendly back in Hong Kong, it’s just different. Back in Hong Kong it’s very disciplined and there is less communication. Here the coaches are more like friends."

Oscar, who says he is keen to improve his perfectly good English, says: “The tennis level in the UK is high. The players are better. I’ve learned different styles.

"I like to defend, wait for the chance, try to put pace on the ball and move the opponent around the court. I like to produce different types of serves to surprise the opponent."

East Anglian Daily Times: Oscar Wai is said to have a 'bullet' of a serve.Oscar Wai is said to have a 'bullet' of a serve. (Image: CHarlotte Bond)

Severino says: “He’s got a big serve, massive serve - a bullet. He’s fit, he's resilient. His legs are like tree trunks! Where I think we can get a lot more gains is the mental and emotional side of the game. That’s getting better.

"Everyone who watches Candy are impressed with her all-round game. She’s great from the back. She’s got very, very good hands and can build the point very well. She can slice, she can volley, the serve is getting much better.

“She’s top of the food chain in this area now and people just love watching her. You can definitely see a Tour player in there."

Asked how far he thinks the siblings can go in the game, Severino says: “They both want to become professional tennis players and the dream is still alive for both of them.

“You look at Jo Konta, Emma Raducanu... why can’t you dream? Things haven’t gone their way, like they didn't for Bally, but they are two fantastically committed individuals who will run through a wall for you. They are just a joy to have around. They are class athletes and class people.

“Weird things happen in sport. All you need is that confidence, a bit of momentum and the next minute you are somewhere you never believed you could be. Never say never."

East Anglian Daily Times: Elena Baltacha was Britain's top female tennis player and played in the London 2012 Olympics. Picture: PA SPORTElena Baltacha was Britain's top female tennis player and played in the London 2012 Olympics. Picture: PA SPORT (Image: Archant)

He continued: “To get a player on the Tour costs £1.4m. We’ve got to try and build a full-time programme around Oscar on a budget. Thankfully, with lots of local support, we are achieving that.

“It’s like Bally again. We had no money to play with and had to make the most of everything. I’ve got to bring in hitters that aren’t going to charge anything. It’s about pulling in favours.

“Matt Hough, Jez Cowley, Ben Smith have all played a big role in that. Oscar is playing for Felixstowe. The local tennis fraternity have really embraced them both.

“Duncan Foster, who runs Aquagrain, and Phil Scott and Rana Miah, who run the Ipswich Mortgage Centre, sponsor me. And because they sponsor me I can give them the time.

“We had a sponsorship day and we’re hoping there will be some more backing, because they are going to need it.

“It’s chicken and egg because until they pop and do something really big then the sponsors don’t tend to come in.

“Travel, hotels, food... it adds up. We’re really trying for them because they deserve it."

Severino added: "The crossroads of life has brought us together and bringing us together has led to other people coming in to support them. I’m really excited about them both because they’ve both got the ability to do something, definitely. I think this is just the beginning."