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Tennis legend Tep Khunnah remembered

121204_22
Cambodia's Mam Phalkun was defeated by Katsushi Fukuda from Japan. Photograph: Sreng Meng Srun/Phnom Penh Post

The life and times of Cambodian tennis legend Tep Khunnah came into sharp focus at the National Training Centre yesterday.

The third and final leg of the Cambodian Futures series, which goes by its promotional name, the GLF-Tep Khunnah Trophy, marks the beginning of a week-long commemoration of Tep Khunnah’s priceless contribution to the Kingdom’s sports in general and tennis in particular.

Heralded as the father of Cambodian tennis, Tep Khunnah presided over the golden era of the 1960s as a classy player, astute leader and selfless mentor.

He spent the twilight of his life in Canada, but until his death Cambodian tennis was firmly in his consciousness.

Legend has it that the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk was a great fan of Tep Khunnah and paid regular visits to Le Circle Sportif, a site now occupied by the US embassy complex, to watch the maestro in action on court.

“It is a rare honour to have our company’s name next to an extraordinary tennis personality like Tep Khunnah,” Mitsuji Konoshita, the president of GL Finance, sponsor of the Cambodian F2 and F3 tournaments, told the Post yesterday.

Tennis Federation of Cambodia secretary-general Tep Rithivit said it was an emotional week for him and his family as he recalled memories of his father.

“There were no conversations without tennis at our dining table when my father was around. It was tennis, and nothing but tennis, all his life,” Rithivit said.

“His motto was to turn the luxury of a few, which tennis was at the time, into a convenience for thousands who thought they couldn’t afford it.

“This doctrine of his, taking tennis to the masses, is what we at the TFC are fully embracing today.

“He may not be among us, but I can see his positive influences everywhere.”

Fukuda outclasses Phalkun

Inveterate veteran Katsushi Fukuda easily had the measure of Cambodia’s Mam Phalkun 6-3, 6-1 in a first-round clash of wild cards on the opening day of the US$10,000 ITF Cambodian Futures for the GLF-Tep Khunnah Trophy at the National Training Centre yesterday.

The 36-year-old Japanese left-hander  unerringly kept the ball in play to the annoyance of US-based Phalkun, whose lack of fitness allowed Fukuda the liberty of dragging his opponent from one flank to the other.

“He has tons of patience,” was Phalkun’s compliment to Fukuda, who made the quarter-finals of the first leg and was beaten in the first round the following week.

Meanwhile, for Estonian Markus Kerner, the first round was a sweet and sour affair.

He got into the main draw as a lucky loser, but after a tense three-setter stretching well over two hours, China’s Gao Peng snatched the honours 6-2, 6-7, 6-4.

The only seeded player to take the court yesterday was China’s Chuhan Wang. The fifth seed proved too strong for American Michael Laser in a 6-1, 6-1 romp.

Algerian qualifier Mehdi Bouras ran out a 6-4, 6-3 winner over China’s Yang Lu.

The 425th-ranked Robin Kern of Germany, who has been seeded second behind France’s Alex Michon, will take on Cambodian Davis Cupper Mam Panhara today while Cambodian No 1 Bun Kenny will face eighth-seeded Filip Verger of Croatia.

To contact the reporter on this story: H S Manjunath at hirimanju@yahoo.com

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