Tennis Cambodia is all set to play a key role in creating a Southeast Asian Challenger swing with its regional partners following the Association of Tennis Professionals pivot towards development through a bigger and better-coordinated Challenger network.
Out of the 151 Challenger events held in 44 countries around the world last year, the Asia Pacific region accounted for only 17. The need for more such tournaments in a big continent like Asia has never been greater and that is one of the prime reasons a senior executive from the ATP was in Phnom Penh three days ago as part of his wider Southeast Asian mission to trigger these swings.
The ATP’s Sydney-based senior manager for sponsorship and marketing, Richard Evans, spent two days holding a series of discussions with Tennis Cambodia secretary-general Tep Rithvit and technical director and national coach Braen Aneiros over the prospects of Cambodia joining its ASEAN neighbours and partners in creating an integrated Challenger network in the region.
How soon can this regional swing come about?
“As soon as the Federations and promoters are ready,” Evans told the Post on Tuesday in an exclusive chat before he left for Thailand.
“It can be next year. Once they say yes, the ATP will extend all possible support. The regional networking is vital. It cuts down on travel time and costs. A well-structured calendar gives the players an opportunity to play national and regional swings for better prize money and higher ranking points in their own zone.”
Evans pointed out that while the Federations can still have their regular Futures events, being also part of the Challenger tour helps quicker player development.
“We also wanted to encourage these Challenger promoters to work together to create more effective swings and stimulate sponsorship,” he added.
Alison Lee, executive vice president of ATP International, wrote in a statement made available to the Post: “The ATP Challenger circuit is designed to be a stepping stone for young players to play against top players and push themselves to play up to ATP World Tour tournaments.”
“In 2013, players like Pablo Carreno Busta [Spain] and Dominic Thiem [Austria] demonstrated how the Challenger circuit can work for young up- and-coming players. Starting the year ranked 715 and 405 respectively, they played Futures, then Challengers and moved onto the qualifying and main draws of ATP World Tour tournaments. They are now ranked 64 and 81 [as of last Monday].
“Overall, Asia has doubled its number of Challenger events in the past decade and continues to steadily increase this number. India staged three Challenger events in a mini-swing two months ago and China understands the importance of having an integrated structure of tournament levels for their players,” said Lee, adding that they looked forward to seeing more Asian male players on the world tour.
Tennis Cambodia has responded positively to this ATP initiative and is willing to jump in once the logistics are worked out.
“It is great to be recognised by the ATP. Our aim has always been to promote tennis the best way we can. And we are ready and we look forward to this regional swing,” Tep Rithivit told the Post.
Meanwhile, Evans also followed up on the ATP Aces for Charity grant that was awarded this year to the Tennis Cambodia’s Global Goodwill Ambassador Leander Paes, the multiple doubles Grand Slam winner and Indian Olympian and Davis Cupper, for his work with the Killing Fields to Tennis Courts Foundation.
While between 600 and 700 ITF Futures every year serve as entry level tournaments, it is the Challenger Tour that is the realistic springboard to fame and fortune for players in the realm of professional tennis.
In general, players doing the Futures circuit find it extremely hard to make that transition to the next level, the Challengers, which offer a higher number of ranking points and more prize money.
The vast majority of players on the ATP World Tour have passed through the Challengers on the way to the top, with nearly all of those in the Top 10 ATP rankings this year having competed in the Challenger Tour earlier in their careers.
Pete Sampras, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer have all progressed through the Challenger level.
Challenger events are run under the rules and regulations of the ATP World Tour and are fully administered by the ATP. Challenger tournaments are assigned ATP ranking points according to the on-site prize money of each event, which can range from $40,000 to $220,000. In 2013, 151 Challenger tournaments offered a total prize money of $9.1 million.