The rise of Women’s Tennis Association events by nearly 40 per cent in the Asia-Pacific region has left room for optimism that Cambodia could be one of the tour stops in the near future if it covers two key elements: interest and investment.
The women’s tennis world governing body, the WTA, is bent on finding ways to maximise its calendar in the region.
With Singapore hosting the multimillion-dollar WTA Finals featuring the world’s top eight players for the first time in Asia last October following a five-year deal, the women’s tennis scene across the continent is heading for a dramatically positive change.
Being a fraternal member of the Association of South East Asian Nations with close tennis links to Singapore, Cambodia could use this platform of opportunity to inspire more girls into the game and raise competitive standards.
“Cambodia has come a very long way in the last few years. If the country can generate interest and on the back of it attract the right investment, it could well be in the company of some of its neighbours who are hosting $125,000 WTA events, which form the base of the Tour structure,’’ Melisa Pine, Women’s Tennis Association vice president and Asia Pacific and WTA Finals Tournament director said exclusively to the Post yesterday.
“The historic WTA Finals in Singapore will drive the growth of tennis for years to come and the launching of the WTA Future Stars at the under-14 and 16 levels will give these youngsters a chance to be with the top players and icons of the game and participate in community service activity with them,’’ said Pine, who was on her first visit to Cambodia.
Though Cambodia was among the 12 nations invited for the Future Stars last year, a team could not be sent, but it is almost certain that the Kingdom will be participating this year.
“The WTA Future Stars junior tournament series is aimed to encourage young girls throughout Asia-Pacific to become active through tennis,” the WTA Finals tournament director said.
“For more than four decades, WTA players have served as role models and inspiration for the future generation of young girls worldwide. We look forward to introducing the future stars to the stars of today and tomorrow at the WTA Finals in Singapore,” Pine said.
“It is great to see so many positives in Cambodian tennis, and I would like to see more girls playing, and I am really touched by the work Tennis Cambodia is doing in its grassroots development, especially in the six orphanages,’’ said Pine, who after watching the Street Tennis program along the riverside in Phnom Penh, made a short trip to Kep to visit several ongoing tennis projects in the coastal town, which is fast shaping as the country’s second tennis centre.
During her stay in Kep, Pine had a fruitful meeting with the secretary-general of Tennis Cambodia Tep Rithivit, who was one of the special invitees to the WTA Finals in Singapore.
“It was great to have Mellisa Pine visit us. Her vast experience and expertise will be of huge help to Tennis Cambodia as we strive to grow tennis on all fronts,’’ Tep Rithivit said.
“I greatly admire the Future Stars program. We missed our chance last year, but I will make sure that we are there this time,’’ he added.
It was the legendary Billie Jean King who relentlessly battled for equality and empowerment through tennis and was the driving force in the creation of the WTA in 1973.
“The vision of every member of the original nine women professionals was that any girl, wherever she was born, could grow up to make a living from tennis if she was good enough,” is a famous Billie Jean King quote.
“Holding the WTA Finals in Asia-Pacific for the first time is fantastic proof that our dream is thriving,’’ King declared before the opening of the Singapore event.
King was one of nine players who broke away from the tennis establishment in 1970 and accepted $1 contracts from tennis promoter Gladys Heldman, a daring move that eventually led to the birth of women’s professional tennis.