Media event at the Cambodia Country Club aims to promote the development of local talent through the Tennis Federation of Cambodia's Mini-Tennis programme to teach youngsters
THE Tennis Federation of Cambodia (TFC) is holding a Kids Day today at the Cambodia Country Club (CCC) in order to promote the sport in the country and continue their search for talented youngsters to represent the national team in the future. The event is sponsored by local garment manufacturers Amnig, and benefits from free use of the facilities at the CCC.
TFC have received a huge boost to their development from the CCC, which has donated a plot of land next to their existing tennis courts for the construction of a national training centre.
The CCC have offered a five-year lease on the land, of which the Federation will only be eligible to pay rent on during the last two years, with three hard courts and a temporary clubhouse scheduled for construction to be completed by early 2010. A permanent clubhouse and dormitory for players is also planned to begin construction at the end of 2010.
"This is a great deal," said TFC General Secretary Tep Rithivit of the CCC's pledge. "It's easily enough to kickstart our junior development programme. The TFC is very excited to be associated with responsible Cambodian companies that are giving back to the community."
Tep Rithivit, the driving force behind the development of Cambodian tennis, is the son of former Cambodian No 1 player Tep Khunnah, the late tennis legend of the 1950s and 60s, who competed in the Davis Cup. He is remembered each year by means of a weeklong tournament entitled the Tep Khunnah Memorial Cup, which will be held for the 14th time this year in November.
The TFC is also busy organising its second edition of the Cambodian Open, to also be held at the CCC from August 21 til the final August 30.
Cambodia's greatest tennis achievement in recent times came in the 2007 SEA Games in Korat, Thailand, with Nysan Tan capturing the bronze medal in the men's singles. The 20-year-old Nysan Tan has since moved to France, his birth country, to continue his training. He plays for Levallois Tennis Club in Paris. Another promising talent is Kenny Bun, 19, who is also training in his birth country of France, playing for AS PTT club in Metz. Both players are under contract with the TFC, which will see them return to Southeast Asia in November to compete in the Tep Khunnah Memorial Cup and then the Southeast Asian Games in Laos in December.
Robert Davis joins the cause
The 2007 SEA Games also sparked a close friendship between Tep Rithivit and American Robert Davis, who at the time was coaching the defeated Thai opposition of Nysan Tan. Davis was inspired by Tep Rithivit's emotional response to his player's winning the bronze medal, and has since pledged to help the TFC by volunteering his services as international consultant specialist, which will see him dedicate 20 weeks a year to coaching here.
Davis has a proven track record of developing players and producing gold medal-winning teams, having coached at Grand Slam level and men's and women's teams in the Davis Cup and Fed Cup. His 19 years of coaching experience has seen him travel to countries such as Peru, Panama and Indonesia. The TFC hopes to learn invaluable lessons from him, including the latest coaching techniques and how to control groups of children.
"I am very excited to be a part of the Tennis Federation of Cambodia," said Davis on Thursday. "Cham Prasidh [resident of the TFC] and Rithivit Tep have created an incredible synergy here. From sponsors to volunteers, coaches and players alike are full of enthusiasm for tennis.
"Cambodia tennis has the ability and desire to make great improvements. What they have lacked in the past are the opportunities. Now, thanks to Cambodia Country Club they have a permanent training site."
Davis also paid tribute to the clothing donations from Amnig. "National team uniforms have given the kids and coaches a sense of pride," he noted. "They are working very hard on the mission to compete at their very best for the upcoming SEA Games."
Mini-Tennis brings in youths
The TFC hopes to attract and nurture future talent through its grassroots Mini-Tennis and Education programme, started in 2005 and which already collaborates with 20 public schools across Phnom Penh and 5,000 enrolled students to teach basic tennis skills and encourage competitive playing.
Mini-Tennis is a scaled-down version of the sport played with plastic rackets and soft balls, which the TFC provide to introduce young players to tennis, with Cambodian children encouraged to practice further at the schools to polish their skills in preparation for any of the three annual tournaments organised by the TFC.
Today's schedule kicks off at 10am with a training session for the national team coached by Robert Davies. Then at 11:45am, 30 children from the Mini-Tennis programme will showcase their skills to the public and media with the TFC keen to stress the importance of such a programme as key to the future of tennis in Cambodia. Plans to extend the number of participating schools in Phnom Penh to 30 are underway through newly appointed TFC Technical Director Eric Delacollette, who also aims to improve the standard of youth coaches.
At 12:45pm, a short press conference with federation officials will be followed by a sportswear presentation by managing director of Amnig Sportswear Colin Y H Cheang. Amnig are making a multifaceted contribution to tennis in Cambodia, most notably dressing the entire national team in their brand of sportswear, including training suits and tennis shoes for both players and coaches, as well as supplying official attire for the upcoming Cambodian Open.
Malaysian-born Cheang has also sponsored 10 of his staff members to take up tennis in Cambodia, in the hope that their interest will inspire others to take up the game. "Cambodian tennis suffers from a lack of exposure," he said. "In Malaysia, it is compulsory for housing estates to have sporting facilities, and these often consist of tennis courts. My hope is that one day Cambodia will have tennis courts spread all over the country."
Tennis is anyone's game
Cheang noted that despite its reputation as an elitist sport, tennis is not especially expensive to play once facilities have been built. "It's a good sport," Cheang remarked. "It can be played by old and young, fast and slow, and it's a healthy activity. If everybody puts in the effort, tennis will be popular in Cambodia."
Judging by the relentless efforts of Tep Rithivit, Robert Davis and other members of the TFC, as well as the generosity of sponsors, the future of tennis in Cambodia looks brighter than ever.