Organisers hope for a hotly contested tournament this year despite the withdrawal of foreign players seeking tour points
Photo by: Cornelius Rahn
Orn Sambath, 14, one of strongest prospects in Cambodian tennis, shows his powerful serve at the Tep Khunnah tournament.
The cup was set up by TFC Secretary General Tep Rithivit and family to commemorate his father Tep Khunnah, who died in 1995. During the 1960’s – the “golden age” of Cambodian sports – Tep Khunnah was a national star player, participating in the Davis Cup.
THE 13th annual Tep Khunnah Memorial Cup got underway in Phnom Penh on Sunday, with 71 athletes of different nationalities, genders and ages competing for total prize money of US$2,000.
Some 43 men, 12 women, and 12 boys and four girls will compete in roughly 130 matches during the week-long event at the VIP Sports Club. The tournament, which is hosted by the Tennis Federation of Cambodia (TFC), is divided into four categories: men's singles, women's singles, men's doubles and 18 years-and-under singles. The winners of each category will be awarded $200, and runner-ups will walk away with $125.
In order to increase the playtime for all participants, losers can enter a consolation bracket instead of being eliminated outright.
Tep Rithivit, who returned to Cambodia from Canada in 1995 to manage the TFC youth training, says he hopes he can turn the tournament into a major tennis event in the region.
The cup is part of a strategy to "bring back Cambodian tennis, at least regionally", he said, adding that despite limited funds, the results are encouraging. The national team's bronze medal at last year's Asean games in Thailand has given an immense boost to the reputation of Cambodian tennis.
"It was a breakthrough for us. We beat the Thai number two", said Tep Rithivit, adding that the result was important for the morale of young players. "A lot of kids are starting to believe that it's not only about us getting beat," he said.
Foreigners snub tournament
Organisers said they were "saddened" that the Lao and Vietnamese federations withdrew their participation at short notice, in order to play in domestic tournaments.
According to Tep Rithivit, it is difficult for the TFC to attract young foreign players to its tournaments because it cannot award official International Tennis Federation (ITF) points.
Cambodia is the only country is Southeast Asia that does not meet official ITF requirements of at least four courts, with currently only three courts available for rent at the VIP Sports Club. The TFC is attempting to get its own facilities at the Olympic stadium, but the secretary general says he has given up hope to find a home for his players in the near future.
"If we were on [the ITF] tour, we could give them points and make it more interesting for these foreign players to come," he said. "Since we are not, we can only offer them a little prize money. ... They are more interested in grabbing as many points as possible."
Future tennis stars
As a result, the Cambodian youngsters are lacking exposure to foreign competition, which limits the advances they can make. Nonetheless, Tep Rithivit is particularly excited about seeing his young players perform at the memorial tournament.
The finals will be played on Sunday, followed by an awards ceremony directly afterwards.
The TFC also hosts the annual Cambodian Open in February or March.