To restore Cambodian tennis to its halcyon days of the 1960s is to honour the ever lasting legacy of one man, Tep Khunnah, whose life and times have inspired many to shape the Kingdom’s history and redefine its future.
From humble beginnings as a ball boy to the rich elite in the era of wooden racquets, to the day when a benevolent Cambodian doctor stoked his tennis passion and threw the court open to his heart, until the end of his life full of tennis accolades, Tep Khunnah remained a charming leader, a man who rose in the midst of adversities to be a perfect role model for his own and generations ever after.
Every year the tennis community commemorates Tep Khunnah’s memory the way he would have loved the most. “Nothing would have pleased my father more than a tennis event,” says Tennis Federation of Cambodia Secretary General Tep Rithivit. The 15th edition of the week-long Tep Khunnah Memorial tournament opens in Phnom Penh this Saturday.
“Do not play hard, play smart” was Tep Khunnah’s worldly advice for players of all ages. That tennis philosophy of his has stood the test of time and exemplified in his own brand of “touch tennis”, an art he graciously passed on to his younger brother Tep Sokhonnah. The siblings cleaned up at regional events in the sixties as a doubles pair before Tep Sokhonnah took his delicate skills to new heights in France, where he was ranked among the top dozen players and gained the nickname Mr Soft Hands.
If a chronicler sits down to record the history of Cambodian tennis, a sizeable chunk will have to be reserved for Tep Khunnah, his tennis accomplishments, generosity and above all leadership – a footprint that can never ever be erased.