Tennis in Hong Kong started off as a niche sport played only by a small contingent of European expats before 1900. It was only after the turn of the century that competitive tennis emerged when representatives from several recreation clubs met in early 1909 to discuss the creation of a tennis league. It was then that the Hong Kong Lawn Tennis Association was formed, reflecting the fact that in those days tennis was played almost exclusively on grass courts. It wasn’t until 31st July 1984 that the name was changed to the current ‘Hong Kong Tennis Association’ (HKTA) and the Association was incorporated under the Companies Ordinance.
The first league ran from May to July 1909 and matches were played at clubs such as Hong Kong Cricket Club (then in Chater Road in Central), Craigengower Cricket Club (CCC), Y.M.C.A. (both European and Chinese Departments), the Taikoo Club, the Lusitano Club, the Navy Yard, the Civil Service and the Kowloon Cricket Club (KCC). Records show this first Men’s ‘A’ Division League was won by KCC. A mixed doubles league commenced in 1929, with a Ladies League following in 1948, whilst interport matches against Shanghai were first recorded in 1922, and against Macau in 1935.
The first National Grass Court Men’s Singles Championship was held in 1911 at the Hong Kong Cricket Club and won by H.A. Nisbet. The first Chinese champion, Ng Sze-Kwong was crowned in 1918, going on to win six successive titles. The National Grass Court Championships was held at HKCC until 1976, apart from in 1975 & 1976 when it was held at CCC, whilst the Hong Kong Hardcourt National Championships were first held in 1937 at Chinese Recreation Club (CRC). 1920 saw the first Ladies Singles National Championships at United Services Recreation Club in Kowloon and was won by Mrs. Armstrong.
In the early days many national titles were shared by a small number of very talented players. S.A Rumjahn won 5 National Singles titles and captured 13 doubles titles with his cousin, H.D. Rumjahn, eleven of them consecutively from 1925 to 1935. In 1936 Tsui Wai-pui won the first of his 32 Hong Kong titles, many with his brother Tsui Yun-pui, over a 34-year period. The most successful player was Ip Koon-hung, the 1948 China National Games Champion, with 53 grass and hard-court titles (26 singles and 27 doubles) over a 20-year span beginning in 1947. In 1954, Ip and Edwin Tsai represented Hong Kong at Wimbledon.
By 1938, HKLTA had grown to include 25 clubs with over 150 courts on Hong Kong Island and Kowloon. The vast majority of courts were grass and tennis still remained a privilege only for a wealthy minority as public courts did not yet exist. Chinese Recreation Club dominated the HKLTA League in its early days, with other clubs starting to provide healthy competition following the end of the Second World War in 1945.
In the 1950’s frequent exhibition matches were played at HKCC, featuring top Davis Cup players from Australia, USA, Sweden and India, and in 1957 Jack Kramer’s “Circus”, featuring Pancho Segura, Lew Hoad, Ken Rosewall and Kramer himself displayed their skills at Chater Road. However, it was with the arrival of the open era in 1968, with the barrier between amateur and professional tennis being abolished, that tennis became more publicly known and HKLTA launched its first development programmes.
It was at this time that Ken Catton became Vice President and Honorary Secretary in 1970 and was elected HKLTA President in 1971, a position he would hold for five years. Catton was instrumental in the launch of the first professional tournament with prize money in 1972 at the then modest facility at Victoria Park, which was replaced by a purpose built stadium with over 3,600 seats in 1982. This was followed by commercially sponsored tournaments featuring world ranked players starting in 1973.
With a growing appetite for the sport, the region played host to some of the world’s top players, including legend Rod Laver who captured the Hong Kong title in 1973, which was part of the Ken Catton inspired Asian Tennis Circuit. Others stars to compete in Hong Kong in these early days of professional events included Ken Rosewall, Jimmy Connors, Ilie Nastase, John McEnroe and Ivan Lendl.
The emergence of talented junior players such as Ling Fong and Kenneth Tsui, and the efforts of Ken Catton to get Hong Kong recognised by the ITF as a Davis Cup Nation, led to Hong Kong competing in the Davis Cup for the first time in 1970. However, it wouldn’t be until 1982 that Kelvin Ng secured Hong Kong’s first point against the Philippines in a close 3-2 loss, and not until 1984 that it recorded its first tie win in the team competition, over Chinese Taipei 3-2, away in Taipei. In 1992 Hong Kong achieved notable success in the competition with promotion to the Davis Cup Asian Zone Group I.
Women’s tennis notched some significant milestones in the 1980s with Hong Kong entering in the Fed Cup for the first time in 1981 and the first WTA tournament being held in 1980. Hong Kong’s junior girls, in particular, thrived with Patricia Hy (then representing Hong Kong) finishing runner up at the 1983 Junior Wimbledon Singles and champion in doubles (with Patty Fenwick), whilst the girls under-16 team of Paulette Moreno, Lisa Kwok and Christine Kwok qualified for the inaugural World Youth Cup Finals in 1985 (finishing 6th). This success translated into the Fed Cup with the National Team reaching the Fed Cup World Group Consolation Finals in 1987.
The establishment of the Hong Kong Tennis Patrons’ Association in 1976, co-founded by Ken Catton and M.W. Lo helped to consolidate the calendar of professional events, with consequential financial benefits to junior tennis development via the Hong Kong Tennis Foundation, which was set up in 1988 to obtain corporate sponsorship and donations for tennis programmes.
With corporate sponsorship of events growing and facilitating increased prize money, world class professional tournaments continued to flourish with a men’s event on the Grand Prix Tour from 1973-87 and the Salem Open on the ATP Tour from 1990-2002, the latter of which was won by the likes of Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi and local favourite Michael Chang.
Top flight exhibition events also offered local fans the opportunity to watch the world’s best with the annual Marlborough 16-man tournament running from 1988 to 1997, followed by the Hong Kong Tennis Classic from 1999 to 2011 which featured WTA stars such as Steffi Graf, Martina Hingis, Serena & Venus Williams, Maria Sharapova and Kim Clijsters.
The inaugural Hong Kong Tennis Open in 2014, supported by the Hong Kong Government and title sponsor Prudential, returned the WTA and officially sanctioned top level professional events to the local calendar and has proved to be a hugely popular mainstay on the women’s circuit and local event calendar.
Three Hong Kong-wide open hard court tournaments, the Hong Kong National Tennis Championships, the Chinese Recreation Club (CRC) Open, which launched in 1970 and the South China Athletic Association (SCAA) Open Tennis Championships, first held in 1970, whose structure and openness have evolved since their inception, continue to provide the basis for players to prove their worth and achieve national rankings.
With a strategy to increase player development through professional competition, the past few years has seen a growth in the number of ITF level professional events held in Hong Kong for both men and women, giving local talents the opportunity to gain valuable high level tournament experience and ranking points. Additionally ITF Junior World Tennis Tour events have given young players a springboard to develop and test themselves against their international peers.
In recent years this has translated to international success with players such as Zhang Ling, Eudice Chong, Cody Wong and Wu Ho Ching capturing ITF level events around the world as well as Zhang and Chong achieving quarterfinal singles appearances at the 2018 Asian Games. Chong has recently recorded notable results in doubles, notching up 10 ITF World Tour titles and a WTA doubles ranking in the top 160, in addition to becoming Hong Kong’s first two-time medalist in tennis at the World University Games in Naples in 2019, bringing home bronze in both singles and doubles (with Maggie Ng).
An investment by HKTA in both grassroots and elite development has garnered positive results in the first two decades of this century. In 2008, HKTA moved its development team and training focus to Kowloon Tsai with the opening of the HKTA Tennis Centre, whilst players have continued to train full time at HKSI.
Hong Kong has continued to see success in global junior team competitions for both girls and boys with numerous appearances in the Junior Davis Cup and Fed Cup World Finals and the World Junior Tennis Finals in the past 20 years. In 2019 the under-16 Boys team finished an unprecedented 8th place in the world at the Junior Davis Cup.
In recent years, local juniors have made their mark at the Grand Slams also, notably with Cody Wong reaching the quarterfinals of the 2020 Australian Open girls singles and the semi-finals of the 2019 US Open girls doubles (with partner Melodie Collard) as well as the last 16 of Wimbledon in Singles. Coleman Wong also progressed to the second round of the 2020 Australian Open in singles and doubles and became the first local player to win the prestigious under-14 Orange Bowl title in the United States in 2018.
In the 21st century tennis is a widespread and popular sport in Hong Kong with coaching programs, leagues and tournaments for all age groups and levels held throughout the year. With over 40 Affiliated Clubs, 8000 registered players and 600 courts, many open to the public, the sport’s growing popularity continues to thrive.