Hong Kong's Rice Bowl Junior Interport Invitational tennis competition kicks off today with international teams taking part for the first time. In the past the event, held at the Sports Institute in Sha Tin, only included juniors from Taipei and the mainland. But this year players from Australia, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Thailand will compete as well. The tournament will consist of individual and team events for both boys and girls in under-14 and under-12 categories. Hong Kong has never won a title in the competition's 10-year history. But this year there are hopes that the locals will break their duck. Top-ranked junior Venise Chan Wing-yau has a great chance in the girls' under-14 singles, says Thomas Cheung of the Hong Kong Tennis Association (HKTA). 'Venise has improved a lot and she will make a strong challenge,'' said Cheung. 'In the under-12s, Geraldine Leung could do well, while Ryan Cheung is a contender in the boys' under-12 singles,' he added. In team events, Ryan - at 12 the youngest-ever junior in full-time training at the Sports Institute - will join Andrew Chan as 'Team Dragon' in under-12. 'They can do well together - but Australia are the favourites,'' Cheung said. The competition is an important step on the local developmental ladder, said HKTA executive director Peter Hung. 'Competitions such as the Rice Bowl are fundamental in the development of our junior players as they can gain necessary match experience through tournament play,'' he said. 'We can also evaluate the standard of Hong Kong's juniors compared to the same age groups from other nations,'' Hung said. Meanwhile, the Hong Kong Junior Open finals were held on Sunday at the Sports Institute. See results and pictures in tomorrow's Young Post.