In a momentous event for Cambodian tennis, the Kingdom is set to host the inaugural International Tennis Federation (ITF) Asian U14 Junior Championships.

Scheduled from September 4 to 8, the tournament will welcome the finest young tennis talents from across Asia to compete at the Morodok Techo National Stadium Tennis Centre in Phnom Penh.

The event will be overseen by two notable figures in Cambodian tennis: Som Chhinda, a 2023 SEA Games Bronze medallist, and Chea Poeuv, a former national player and coach. Their combined expertise and dedication to the sport promise an unforgettable tournament.

“This will be the first time Cambodia has hosted an event of this magnitude. We are inviting the top-ranked players from across the region,” said Chhinda, who has been named tournament director.

The Kingdom’s hosting of this major international competition follows the successful organisation of the 32nd SEA Games and 12th ASEAN Para Games.

Tennis Cambodia was selected by both the International Tennis Federation (ITF) and the Asian Tennis Federation (ATF) to host the event.

The ITF Asian 14U Junior Championships will feature 48 players (24 boys, 24 girls). The players have been selected through a combination of Grade A tournaments, ATF rankings and wildcard entries.

Cambodia has been granted two wildcard spots, affording local talent the opportunity to represent their nation on the international stage.

The format includes both singles and doubles draws of 32 and 16, respectively. The event will build upon Tennis Cambodia’s history of hosting competitions at various levels, and highlights the nation’s commitment to developing tennis from grassroots to professional levels.

“It is an immense honour and privilege for Cambodia to continue to showcase the highest competitive level of tennis in the Southeast and overall Asian region,” said Chhinda.

More than 10 countries from the Asian region, including India, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, South Korea, China, Hong Kong, Uzbekistan, among others, have received invitations, based on their players’ rankings and past performances in Grade A tournaments.

The top junior players aged 14 and under were invited on behalf of the ATF.

“The players will arrive in Cambodia on September 2. The official draw will take place the following day, and we will host a press conference to discuss Cambodia’s role as host and acknowledge the key figures involved,” Chhinda explained.

Chhinda, a Cambodian who was born in the US, represented Cambodia at the 28th SEA Games in Singapore in 2015, when she was just 15.

When Cambodia hosted the SEA Games in May this year, she earned a bronze medal for the Kingdom in the women’s team event.

“Based on the outcome of the 32nd SEA Games in Cambodia, I have high expectations that the Cambodian Tennis Federation (CTF) will welcome the best players within Asia with open arms,” she said.

She also expected that the host country would be well-prepared to accommodate the needs of all visiting players, coaches and their support teams.

In 2017, the federation was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame and was awarded the inaugural “Global Organisation of Distinction” award, which recognised its ceaseless commitment to the development and promotion of tennis throughout Cambodia.

Chhinda explained that the event will serve not only as a celebration of the sport, but also as a platform to promote tennis across the nation.

“The goal of the federation is to spread awareness of the sport, especially in underprivileged areas where tennis facilities may be lacking. We want to offer opportunities and make tennis accessible to more children,” she told The Post.

She said she had decided to stay in Cambodia to work with the federation to help develop young and adult tennis players and also continues to train as a player.

Her journey from player to coach and now tournament director exemplifies the potential of Cambodian tennis.

“I and other professionals have visited several provinces and provided equipment to the kids,” said Chhinda.

“It is a very big deal for Cambodia to host this event and it is great to be honoured and acknowledged for our commitment to the sport. The federation was established in 1993, immediately after the civil war. We are gradually becoming able to show the world that we are producing a high quality of tennis here,” she added.

The two Cambodian representatives, Phors Ratanak from Kep and Pov Virak from Phnom Penh, exemplify the federation’s commitment to nurturing local talent.

“I believe they have the potential to excel in the Asian tournament. The federation has enlisted a French coach to train them,” said Chea Poeuv, deputy secretary-general of the tennis federation.

Virak expressed his joy at being chosen to represent the country, having previously competed twice in international tournaments in Sri Lanka.

He developed an interest in tennis at the age of 8 and fully committed to the sport in 2019 when he turned 10.

“For the past five months, I have been training diligently every day, both with my coaches and independently,” the eighth-grader confidently shared with The Post.

“I have faith that I can secure victory for my homeland,” he added.

He hopes that the Cambodian people would come to cheer on the players, especially the young Cambodian talents who are going to take on some of the best international players from across the continent.

The federation also aims to reinvigorate its junior programme, following the disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The federation is committed to nurturing new talent, and runs grassroots programmes that recruit children from schools and villages in underprivileged areas in Battambang, Siem Reap, Kandal, Kep and Kampot provinces.

Chhinda explained how the federation was working to rebuild its programmes.

“Following the SEA Games, we have been focusing on re-introducing tennis to kids to schools in the villages and opened programmes that make it accessible. This means it is free to play for many children,” she said.

“In 2015, we hit the milestone of 10,000 kids playing tennis across the country. We want to rebuild and reach that number again,” she added.

Chhinda said the 2029 Youth Asia Games were awarded to Cambodia, and she was optimistic that with six years to develop talent, the federation would be able to offer a strong challenge at its home games.

“From the beginning, the federation has been on an upswing. They laid out a model that took the Kingdom from the killing fields to the tennis court, and gained so much attention that many pro-tennis players have come to visit both the federation and the kids who play in its programmes,” she added.

She explained that she had returned to live in Cambodia so she could give something back. She wants to show that anything is possible, no matter where you come from, no matter what you lack. She also pointed out one resource that no Cambodian is short of – heart.