Racketlon has historically been very much a European sport. Most of the World Tour events and players are and have always been European. That is slowly starting to change.
Back in January the World Tour ventured to Asia for the second Thailand Open and this weekend will head across the Atlantic to America for the Massachusetts Racket Masters.
Countries outside of Europe are beginning to discover racketlon and perhaps no country leads the way on this more than Hong Kong.
At the Thailand Open in January, Hong Kong was the most represented nation with ten players. We spoke with Vice Chairman of the Hong Kong Racketlon Association, Steven Wai-kit Cheng to learn more the sport in Hong Kong.
Let’s begin by talking a little bit about the history of Racketlon in Hong Kong. When was it founded?
Steven: The Racketlon Federation of Hong Kong was first founded on 27th April 2006 by Chairman Mr Chi-ming Chan and Vice-Chairmen Mr Wai-kit Cheung, Mr Kwok-tai Ho and Mr Yuen-ming Tong. RFHK [Racketlon Federation of Hong Kong] was accepted by the FIR as a member on the 25th November 2006.
The first racketlon competition for the students in CUHK was held in 2006 and the first inter-universities racketlon team event in 2007. This was followed by the first racketlon event for all staff working in schools/institutes in Hong Kong in 2008. In 2018, graduates of CUHK Mr Chun Cheung (Chairman), Mr Steven Wai-kit Cheng (Vice-Chairman), Mr Hon-leung Tang (Vice-Chairman), Mr Victor Tak-lung Wong (Secretary) and Ms Yuen-kiu Wong (Treasurer) took over the RFHK and reformed to the Hong Kong Racketlon Association (HKRA).
How did you personally find out about racketlon?
Steven: Thanks to Mr. Chi-ming Chan, who has held the racketlon competition in CUHK annually, my first taste of racketlon was the competition in 2007 when I was still a university student. Chun Cheung, Hon-leung Tang and I were the prize winners of that competition. We quickly fell in love with racketlon and from 2007 to 2010, Chun and I went to several overseas competitions.
Since then, we have all started our own careers and had to put racketlon aside. The Thailand Open in December 2017 was our second trigger. We all wanted to participate in the first Asian racketlon Open and, after the tournament, Mr. Chan and the RFHK committee members kindly let us take over their role to promote racketlon in Hong Kong.
You hosted the first Hong Kong Championships in 2018. How did the event come about and how did it go?
Steven: The first Hong Kong Championships was successfully held in October 2018. It was aimed to be the stepping stone for us to hold the first Hong Kong Challenger under FIR. Before the competition, we have organized six racketlon fun days and a racketlon summer league for the locals to learn more about racketlon.
The Championship was a one-day event in which around 30 players participated. Kevin Ho-ching Ng, who participated in the Vienna Classics this February and came fourth in the Men B Category, was our champion in the Men’s A event. For the Ladies, Wan-yin Lui beat world ranking players Ho-ching Chan and Sin-ming Cindy Ho to become the champion. We look forward to Lui entering the world stage soon.
What other local racketlon events were held in 2018 and how did they go down with local players?
Steven: As previously mentioned, we have held six racketlon fun days, a racketlon summer league together with the Hong Kong Championships last year. Racketlon Fun Days were tailor-made for first-timers. They were paired up into teams of two and each team will play two singles and one doubles match.
The racketlon summer league lasted for two months in July and August. It was aimed at advanced players who want to compete. Our feedback from participants is generally positive and we have around 80 active players in Hong Kong right now.
Why do you think racketlon is becoming more popular in Hong Kong?
Steven: The four racket sports, individually, are very popular in Hong Kong. Table tennis is popular from school kids to the elderly and for badminton you can never find a vacant public court during opening hours. Squash and tennis have improved their popularity over the past 10 to 20 years. The squash and tennis leagues throughout the calendar year organized by the Hong Kong Squash and the Hong Kong Tennis Association are an enormous success where thousands of people have participated. Hence it is relatively easy for people here to pick up racketlon as they always have at least one or two rackets they are familiar with.
Another thing individual racket sports do not have is the scoring system of racketlon where every point counts. You will never see the players that focused in a match, even if the score is 20-0. The mental game is attractive and some participants want to join all activities organized by us. We are also happy to find some potentially good racketlon players here.
What other local events do you have lined up in 2019?
Steven: We will continue to organize fun days, the summer league, and a 2nd Hong Kong Championship in 2019. Also, we have started recruiting members of the HKRA and we will take reference of the world ranking system from the FIR to set up a local Hong Kong ranking system for members. There will be a members-only ranking competition at the end of 2019.
As far as I can remember, Hong Kong entered its first team in the Racketlon World Championships in 2018. How much of a big moment was that for Racketlon Hong Kong?
Steven: The first Hong Kong team to play in the World Championships was actually in Belgium, 2006. Mr. Chi-ming Chan and Ms Lim-chee Amy Chan, a former Hong Kong badminton team player who represented Hong Kong in the 1988 Olympics, were the leaders. After that, it took more than 10 years to have another Hong Kong team in the World Championships and that was a big moment for us. We had live streams from the players at the competition and the locals were discussing it a lot on social media. We hope team Hong Kong will become a regular participating country in the World Championships in the future.
You sent the largest number of participants from any country to the 2019 Thailand Open. Do you see yourself as a leader in growing racketlon in Asia?
Steven: We may have the largest number of active players in Asia for the time being, but we know there are many talented players in Asia yet to be developed. India, for example, also did well in both Thailand Opens in 2017 and 2019. We understand they have a strong player in Ashutosh Avinash Pednekar who was the champion in the Men’s A at the Thailand Open 2017. In the long run, we hope to improve both the quantity and quality of Hong Kong racketlon players. We also welcome challenges from other Asian countries and hopefully we can have an Asia Racketlon Tour one day.
Well, the Thailand Open is the only tournament currently held in Asia. Would you like to see Hong Kong host a World Tour event in the future?
Steven: Definitely. This is also one of our goals. By holding various racketlon activities we aim to attract the government or private clubs to sponsor us or provide courts for us. The major obstacle for us to hold an international racketlon tournament is the availability of courts. We are working on that and hopefully we will have good news soon. Once we can get the courts confirmed, we will apply to the FIR for the first Hong Kong Challenger.
Who are the best players from Hong Kong that we should keep an eye out for in 2019?
Steven: The first one will be Kevin Ho-ching Ng, our first Hong Kong Championship winner, who is also a former Hong Kong badminton youth team player. October 2018 was his first taste of racketlon and since then he has already participated in two international tournaments, the Thailand Open in January and Vienna Classics in February, with commendable results. He has got the winning mentality and we are certain he can improve greatly as a racketlon player.
The second one is our chairman Chun Cheung. Chun played table tennis and badminton in his childhood and, for the past 10 years, has improved his squash greatly. He has just broken into the top-100 in the world rankings after performing well in the Thailand Open and we hope to see him excel even more.
Where can people go if they would like to find out more information about racketlon in Hong Kong?
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Steven: We have completed our first Racketlon Fun Day on 10 February. 20 locals have their first taste of racketlon. The number of active racketlon players are expanding and we plan to have the first Hong Kong Challenger in 2020, but anytime before that, if any players were to travel to Hong Kong, feel free to find us to play Racketlon!
Sam Barker / FIR Media
Image Credit / Hong Kong Racketlon Association