Christopher Rungkat – Leading the momentum for Tennis Regeneration in Indonesia
Tennis has always been perceived as a sport for the upper class because of the costs involved such as private country club membership, court time and equipment. It was not until the arrival of public tennis courts that ordinary people were able to play the sport, like the Williams sisters who came from an underprivileged family, but that’s in America.
In Indonesia, tennis courts are not readily available to play for free at public parks. Therefore there are not many people play the sport, and not much opportunity to generate new champion. Indonesia’s number one tennis player, Christopher Rungkat, is bothered as he witnesses the stagnant regeneration of Indonesian tennis athletes. Christo realised that Indonesia needed the next tennis champion before he decided to hang the racket someday. He is destined to do something about it and bring back the energy and enthusiasm to the sport.
“In the last decade [tennis in Indonesia] has been stagnant. I personally participated in many events such as the SEA Games and Asian Games, and there are not many new players from Indonesia competing. I feel like the younger generation needs to step up and be hungry to replace me at some point,” says the 28-year-old Asian Games gold medal champion.
He believes that those who may not be financially well can still play tennis, train hard, and develop their games. Christo is currently developing the platform for determined players to have the opportunity where they can compete and win tournaments.
The Unexpected Victory
Christoper Rungkat and Aldila Sutjiadi successfully ended the 28 years title drought by winning gold in the Asian Games tennis mixed doubles competition, defeating the fifth-seeded pair, Luksika Kumkhum and Sonchat Ratiwatana from Thailand. The Indonesian eleventh-seeded pair won a tie-break to claim the country’s only medal in tennis.
“My knees were frozen, knowing we were only one point away from winning gold, which was not the target. We were aiming for the bronze medal,” Christo recalls the final moment before winning the game. “The next thing I realised, we won gold in our home country. At first, I couldn’t believe it, the feeling was surreal,” he adds.
It is unquestioned that hard work and persistence has led to victory, as they repeatedly went up against tough opponents. Christo learned these values from his coach and mentor of 11 years, Robert Davis. “He brought me to where I am today and always set an example on how to stay hungry and discipline, and keep doing the right thing and pushing the barrier every single day,” he praised.
According to Christo, playing every week builds the strength to confront the feeling of under pressure, whether in the position being one point down or playing to a home crowd. He admits that even during Asian Games he still sense nervousness to the crowd, coach, and team, however, he managed to handle those pressure thanks to his experiences competing in tournaments all these years.
“I celebrated for a few days, but then everything back to normal, because at the end of the day I have another set of goals in my head,” says Christo as he explained that winning a tournament does not change him as a person.
His parents and coach taught him to never be satisfied and push himself to the limit. Less than a month after winning Asian Games, Christo is ready to train and compete to achieve his next target, advancing his position in the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) rankings by the end of the year. In the near future he is also aiming to be able to play in two Grand Slam tournaments that he has never participated in, namely the US Open and France Open.
At the Asian Games, Christo was partnered up with Aldila for the Mixed Doubles category in just two weeks, and they surprised everyone by winning the gold medal after producing a couple of upsets. This momentum pushed their motivation to seek victory at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
The Boy from South Jakarta
Christopher Rungkat was born into a family of athletes, and tennis has always been the family’s sport ever since he can remember. Christo’s mother, Elfia Mirlianti, was a national tennis player in the 80s. Coincidently, the tennis court at Grand Hyatt Jakarta, where The Peak did the cover shoot, is a familiar location where Christo reminisces spending time with his family. “We used play tennis at this court all the time with my mother and grandfather,” he recalls.
In the last ten years, Christo became the best tennis player in Indonesia. He managed to penetrate the 96th position in the ATP ranking for doubles. But it all started at 4 years old when his parents introduced him to tennis at Cinere Club Tennis in South Jakarta.
At nine years old he already participated in local tournaments, and soon after he played in the World Youth Cup Qualification in Australia and entered the top three to be sent to the World Youth Cup in Ceska. In 2008, he won the final stage of French Open 2008 Boys’ Doubles Juniors and also reached the 2008 US Open Boys’ Doubles final. In June 2010, he won the Tarakan Open International Men’s Futures tournament, his first international tournament title since going pro. Christo also played at the Grand Slam tournaments, namely the Australian Open and Wimbledon.
To date, Christo has won four gold medals at the 2011 and 2017 SEA Games, and one gold medal at 2018 Asian Games.
“Winning the Asian Games is whole other level. It meant a lot to me because with tennis usually I travelled around the world winning the individual event, while at Asian Games I was representing my country and expectation from Indonesian fans, association, Kemenpora, and everyone was on my shoulder,” he explains.
His character who likes to compete in life developed a strong motivation to achieve his goals. However, he admits that sometimes he is very jaded about his schedule, travelling, and being in the airports and hotels every time. But he keeps reminding himself the reason why he started playing tennis.
“It started because I love it, I like swinging the racket and the feeling of hitting the ball on the sweet spot, and every day I just keep telling myself I have to go back to that stage where I love the sport,” he explains. “When I’m winning, everything becomes easy. But the question is will I be able to do the right thing when I’m losing. So for me, the key is to stay consistent regardless of winning or losing,” he adds.
Recruiting The Next Generation
In April 2016, Christo established a platform for children who want to compete in tennis through monthly tournaments. The Christopher Benjamin Rungkat (CBR) Foundation aims to discover the next talented young tennis player in Indonesia.
“My goal is to be able to guide them to the professional level both mentally and financially,” he explains. “I believe that at the end of the day talent means nothing if you don’t work hard. I want kids to know that to be able to compete at the highest level you need to be consistent and hungry, not just talent,” he adds.
The CBR Master Competition is divided into several age groups, namely 10, 12, 14, and 16, each consists of male and female categories. Winners of the 10 and 12 age groups will receive cash prizes and opportunity to compete in the J2 local tournament. While winners of the 14 and 16 age groups will also receive cash prizes and the opportunity to participate in ITF international tournament. Currently, there are 80 to 100 kids at the competition each month.
“I saw a lot of potential players, but I don’t see the desire. Most of them still play in their comfort zone. It is healthy to educate the players so they can perform at their highest level,” says Christo enthusiastically.