Former Japanese professional tennis player-turned-business magnate Mitsuji Konoshita is staking his personal pride and is ready to open his purse on a multimillion-dollar project to create a tennis academy in Cambodia.
The president of the Cambodia-based GL Finance, a subsidiary of the internationally well-known Group Lease Finance, wants to re-create for talented Cambodian youngsters his own amazing experiences of training in an advanced academy like that of Australian great Harry Hopman’s in Tampa, Florida, or of Nick Bolitieri, the American coach credited with developing the careers of Andre Agassi, Jim Courier and Monica Seles.
After co-partnering the Kingdom’s Davis Cup Group III campaign in Dubai, the GLF has stepped in as the main sponsor for the second year running of two back-to-back Cambodian ITF Men’s Futures events. The final leg, the GLF Tep Khunnah Trophy, concludes at the National Training Center on Saturday.
In an exclusive interview with the Post’s sports writer H S Manjunath, the charismatic Mitsuji Konoshita, who says his life revolves round tennis, spoke about the proposed academy, his passion for the game and his deep involvement with the Cambodian Tennis Federation as one of its biggest supporters – and above all his love for the country.
Post: What is it that has driven you towards this academy project and why Cambodia?
Konoshita: I have to address the second part of the question to explain the first. I have seen so many countries, but I love Cambodia, especially its rural landscape. And as for as the environment for tennis goes, there is no better place. To me the academy is a personal dream and my idea of creating the best possible opportunities for young, motivated, emerging Cambodian talent in tennis.
Q: Can you outline this project, the logistics, cost estimates and location.
A: First of all, our field expert Hideki Kaneko, who was among the world’s top 200 and was Japan’s number two ranked player, was here a few days ago to shortlist venues and draw up a roadmap. He runs Tennis schools in Singapore and Thailand that shelter under our Company’s umbrella. Once the blueprint is ready, we will work on logistics.
What I am looking at is an academy with 20 to 30 courts, a team of good coaches, an integrated school for players to pursue their education while training, a dormitory to house them and specialised gyms for working out. Of course there will be other recreational sports facilities as well.
The cost of the project could be anywhere between $10 million and $20 million. By the way, we are now running similar tennis projects in Singapore, Thailand and five in Japan are all commercial. The one in Cambodia will be more like a foundation.
Q: You mentioned a shortlist of venues, do you have a city in mind.
A:The short answer is yes: it’s Kep. It has breathtaking scenic beauty. Most importantly, it is a safe and secure town, and the safety of the players is of paramount importance. It is not final we are looking at other alternatives as well.
Q: As a major supporter of the Tennis Federation of Cambodia what are your expectations from a sponsorship standpoint.
A: Quite honestly, for me, sponsoring tennis is not a business proposition. I’m not looking for any mileage for my company. The mileage I seek is for the cause of tennis. If that is served, my investment is worthwhile.
The Cambodian Federation is doing a fantastic job in nurturing talent through its grassroots initiatives. I am simply struck by the passion that secretary-general Tep Rithivit has for spreading tennis in Cambodia. And that is one of the reasons why I just cannot move away from tennis here.
Q: You have created a buzz in the players circles with your generosity, offering quarter-finalists in these two weeks of competition extra $500 each from your wallet on top of their prize money.
A: Every time I enter the NTC, what rewinds in my mind is my playing time. The hardships we went through on the tour, three or four of us sharing a room, frugal living. It is hard to make money at this level and that was the reason why I quit tennis and turned to business. The extra that I am offering these players is to enhance their Cambodian experience and ease a little bit of the burden every player shoulders.
Q: What is your most ardent wish for Cambodian tennis.
A: To see the national team do well in the Davis Cup, more tennis talents to emerge and at least one or two players make it to the upper crust of the game. It may sound tough but it is not impossible.