Post sports reporter HS Manjunath shines a spotlight on Cambodia’s national tennis team bound for Dubai and the Davis Cup’s Asia-Oceania Group III stage, which hits off next Wednesday at the Aviation Tennis Club.
Son of legendary Tep Khunah, who is regarded as the father of Cambodian tennis, Rithivit spent his formative years in Canada and France after leaving Phnom Penh at the age of 10.
His promising junior tennis career came to a premature end before he was 17. After working a few odd jobs, he pursued real estate with great success while acquiring business administration skills and advanced academic knowledge.
Rithivit returned to Cambodia in 1993 from Canada and assumed charge as the secretary-general of the Tennis Federation in the mid ’90s, bringing about a spectacular swing in the Kingdom’s tennis fortunes.
At 51, his zest for tennis puts to shame some of today’s junior prospects. He currently heads one of Cambodia’s most trusted investment firms, Devenco.
Rithivit led Cambodia to a stunning success in the teams debut as the non-playing captain in Doha last year, when the Kingdom was unbeaten in five ties to earn promotion to Group III.
Bun Kenny, a 23-year-old right-hander, joined the Cambodian national team in 2009. He has nine ATP points, six of which came last year.
Kenny has won several local tournaments and was the winner of the Tanimex Cup in Ho Chi Minh City last year. He has taken part in nearly 20 Futures events in Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, China, India, Indonesia and Malaysia, and led Cambodia to its first team bronze medal in the SEA Games in Indonesia two years ago.
Kenny also represented Cambodia in the 2009 SEA Games in Vientiane and the 2011 Asian Games in Guangzhou.
In Cambodia’s successful Group IV campaign in Doha, he won all his five singles rubbers and also a couple of doubles matches.
Oregon-based American-Cambodian Mam Panhara is a talented right-hander in his mid-20s. Like Bun Kenny, he won all his singles rubbers in Doha last year and showed his prowess as a doubles player as well.
Panhara has impressive college tennis credentials in the United States. He was Oregon University No 1 for four years in a row, but took a break from competitive tennis to pursue a career in teaching.
An exciting prospect to watch, Panhara joined the team last Friday.
The eldest of the Mam brothers, Phalkun makes his Davis Cup debut, interestingly as a replacement for his youngest brother Vetu, who was part of the Kingdom’s winning team in Doha but could not make it this time due to personal reasons.
The 28-year-old’s record in college tennis, playing for Washington University, had been an impressive one.
He has been pursuing a teaching career back in Portland but is likely to take up a job with the Tennis Federation of Cambodia after his return from Dubai.
If they end up playing a Davis Cup doubles rubber together, Phalkun and Panhara will join the ivy league of brother pairs like the Amrithrajas (Vijay and Anand), Gulliksons (Tim and Tom), Murrays (Andy and Jamie) and the Bryans (Bob and Mike) to name just a few.
More significantly, the Mams may also set a new standard in the Davis Cup with all three of them playing for their country.
As the youngest member of the team, Samneang, who turns 18 on Sunday, earned some useful experience travelling to Doha last year.
He has been showing promise in local tournaments and was part of the Cambodian team that won the SEA Games bronze medal in Indonesia last year.
He may continue to warm the bench again, but sharing Davis Cup experience could greatly benefit his confidence and career.
Cuban-born Panamanian Davis Cupper Braen Aneiros has been a great asset to Cambodian tennis as the head coach and technical director of the Tennis Federation of Cambodia.
Directing a team of eight to 10 assistants, Aneiros, who is in his 30s, has played a key role in revitalising Cambodian tennis.
He has produced amazing results from his junior tennis initiatives and is a key component in all of the TFC’s developmental projects.
Under Aneiros’ watchful eyes, the Cambodian national team performed well beyond expectations by staying unbeaten in Doha.