Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - The fall and rise of tennis in Cambodia

The fall and rise of tennis in Cambodia

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Tep Rithivit (centre) this year celebrates the 20th anniversary of the start of his tenure as the secretary-general of Tennis Cambodia.

The fall and rise of tennis in Cambodia

Tep Rithivit took over the reins of Cambodia’s fledgling tennis federation, Tennis Cambodia, as secretary-general in 1997. Approaching his milestone 20th year at the helm, he has achieved national and international success as an able administrator.

A promising player, circumstances prevented him from pursuing a tennis career, the path his father, the late Tep Khunnah, one of the Kingdom’s best players in the 1960s, had wanted for his son.

As a 10-year-old boy he was taken to the safety of Canada just before the Khmer Rouge reign of terror. But Rithivit had such passion for Cambodian tennis that he returned two decades later and began reviving the fortunes of a game at its lowest ebb.

In 2010 and in November 2016, the International Tennis Federation recognised Cambodia’s as the most improved federation in Asia against the backdrop of a country developing into a strong tennis nation after starting out with a mere 27 courts and constantly facing a lack of resources.

The start of 2017 saw Cambodia regain their Davis Cup Group III status in Bahrain with an all-win record, as well as one of the most successful players ever to represent the country, Andrea Ka, breaking the 600 barrier to rank 597th. She is now the highest ranked Cambodian player of all time.

There are now up to 10,000 boys and girls going through grassroots programmes today in 15 public schools and six orphanages.

Rithivit took some time to speak with The Post’s HS Manjunath about the fall and rise of tennis in the Kingdom.

What prompted you to give up your life in Canada to get into the unknown entity that was tennis in Cambodia at the time?
I always wanted to come back and live in Cambodia, although I could not say when I would back then. I returned in 1992 for the first time since 1973. Business opportunities were my first motivation.
However, the rediscovery of my country triggered my tennis passions once I met my father’s former tennis teammates who were also keen to revive the game.

When do you think Cambodian Tennis turned a corner?
I think it began when we beat the No3 player from Thailand at the SEA Games in Korat in 2005. It was a big deal. We were nowhere near the dream of participating at the Davis Cup, let alone having a vote as a member of the ITF then. That happened in 2011 when we finally became Class B members and gained an entry into the Davis Cup. Looking back, 2007 was definitely a turning point to where we are today. Let us not forget that we have since always managed to win a bronze medal at the SEA Games.

How would you explain the progress made in Cambodian tennis over the past five or six years?
I see this as huge team success. Everyone at Tennis Cambodia understands that only with a ‘cause’ is there a ‘consequence’. We fight for the same cause and that is why we have the results we have today.

What are your future plans?
We have many plans but we have to prioritise some. Grassroots, training and certifying new coaches, continuing to move forward with competition tennis. Men’s tennis has to do better in the world rankings as well. This means more competitions abroad. This also means funding. We cannot do it alone. Our business community has to engage in this quest as well.

What have been your best and worst moments in tennis?
At the 1997 Jakarta SEA Games, I was leading our national team. We lost all our matches to love sets. Our players were so ashamed that they hid their player passes. I made a promise right there to never feel this shame again. My best moment would be several weeks ago when we got back to Group III in Bahrain. Homegrown player Long Samneang won four matches. He is a pure product of our Grassroots and Junior Development Program. It’s amazing how a good day will make you forget the 29 bad ones, but that’s the business we’re in.

MOST VIEWED

  • Judge lands in court after crashing into alleged thief

    Sen Sok district police on Thursday sent a Koh Kong Provincial Court judge to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on manslaughter charges after he crashed his car into a woman riding a motorbike on Wednesday, killing her. District police chief Hour Meng Vang told The

  • Gov’t to boost Siem Reap tourism

    The Ministry of Tourism released the results of an inter-ministerial committee meeting concerning Siem Reap province’s Tourism Development Master Plan for 2020-2035 on Wednesday, revealing the government’s plan to improve the overall tourist landscape there. The meeting was attended by Minister of Tourism

  • Crumbling prices, rent ruffle condo segment

    The prolonged decline in international arrivals to Cambodia intensified by renewed Covid-19 fears has driven down condominium sales prices and rental rates in Phnom Penh, a research report said. CBRE Cambodia, the local affiliate of US commercial real estate services and investment firm CBRE Group

  • Over $3M in traffic fines collected in two months

    Traffic police officers collected over $3 million in fines throughout the Kingdom during the past two months when officers strictly enforced the law in accordance with a May sub-decree, officials said. As incentives, law enforcement officers received between 200,000 and two million riel ($50 to $500) each. The figures

  • More than 10,000 workers suspended

    More than 10,000 workers at 18 factories in Svay Rieng province have been suspended because of Covid-19, said provincial deputy governor Ros Pharith. Home to 11 special economic zones, Pharith said Svay Rieng has not been spared as the pandemic takes a toll on the global economy. “There

  • Nod given for school exams

    The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport announced that State-run higher educational institutions can hold examinations to end the academic year, while private schools can organise grade 9 and grade 12 examinations at their premises for two days. However, private institutions have to take measures to prevent

  • Kingdom’s exports to US mushroom 25.94% in first five months to $2.4B

    Though Cambodia’s exports to other countries have been stalled amid the evolving Covid-19 environment, the Kingdom’s shipments to the US were worth 25.94 per cent more in the first five months of this year than they were in the year-ago period. Bilateral trade between

  • Oz lauds Kingdom’s passage of money laundering laws

    In a press release published by the Australian embassy in Phnom Penh on Monday, the country applauded Cambodia’s stance on transnational crimes as well as its promulgation of an anti-money laundering law and a law on combating proliferation financing. The praise came after King

  • Lotus face masks designed to cover globe

    A French designer in Cambodia has produced ecological face masks from lotus fibre to supply local and international markets with an eye on preserving ancestral techniques and supporting Cambodian women in rural communities. During a trip to Asia, Awen Delaval, an eco-friendly fashion designer, was

  • Accused not treated equally, says CCHR

    The Cambodia Centre for Human Rights (CCHR) has urged the Court of Appeal to do more to ensure that an accused’s right to a fair trial is fully respected. In a bulletin released on Monday, the CCHR said it had monitored 273 cases at the