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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Cambodia face Syria in opening tie

Bun Kenny (front) and Mam Panhara (behind)
Bun Kenny (front) and Mam Panhara (behind) are expected to be involved in today’s Davis Cup singles rubbers in Tehran against Syria. Sreng Meng Srun

Cambodia face Syria in opening tie

Cambodia will open their promotional bid in this year’s Davis Cup Asia Oceania Group III series today with a clash against Middle Eastern rivals Syria at Tehran’s Enghelab Sports Complex.

The official draw placed Cambodia in Pool A along side Malaysia, Syria and Turkmenistan. Hosts Iran are clustered with Lebanon, United Arab Emirates and Singapore in Pool B.

The top two teams from each pool will play crisscross play-offs for next year’s elevation to Group II, while the others will be involved in survival battles to determine the two teams dropping down to Group IV.

After a brief opening ceremony scheduled for 9am local time (11:30am Cambodian time), the first singles rubber between Cambodia and Syria will be down for decision beginning at 10:30am.

Cambodia will in all probability field Bun Kenny and Mam Panhara for the singles while keeping the doubles option open. Syria, who lost a tough Group II relegation battle against Kuwait last year, are expected to pin their faith on experienced players.

“Syria is a strong side but we are ready for the combat and now that we know who our rivals in the pool are, we can mentally prepare ourselves to take them on in the next three days,” Cambodia’s non-playing captain Tep Rithivit told the Post right after the draw was completed.

“The bottom line is that we have to perform at our best to reach the goals we have set out for. In Davis Cup there is no easy way out – every rubber counts,” he added.

Meanwhile, the national players are well aware of the physical and mental challenges the compact format will throw at them.

The more relaxed home and away ties over extended weekends that teams upwards of Group II enjoy is so vastly different from the lower rung, playing 12 straight rubbers over four days on a single-site.

It calls for a tougher than normal mental make up and if it is a surface the players are not so fond of but have no choice but to cope with, like in the case of the Cambodian lot, the level of anxiety in the locker room will be much higher than usual.

“You need to just toughen yourself up and give it your best shot. I am glad we had quality time to get used to the playing surface and conditions and I feel the players are in great heart after three solid practice sessions,” Tep Rithivit said.

The non-playing status does not exclude him from the on court pressures. In any layer of Davis Cup, the captain’s chair in many ways is indeed a hot seat.

“Sitting on that chair by the courtside you can not imagine the slew of emotions – the ups and downs you personally go through. You need to keep your poise first and ensure that your player keeps his.

“Two years on that seat has taught me a lot about patience and persistence and I am confident I can guide them through this,” said Tep Rithivit, who has made it a point this year to take his 14-year-old son Timothy, grandson of legendary Tep Khunnah, along with him to Tehran for what he calls passing on the baton.

“Many people wondered why Timothy, why so early. For me as a tennis-loving parent from a tennis loving family, it is building on my father’s legacy.

“He didn’t play Davis Cup. I didn’t, but Timothy has a chance to and that’s the reason why I spent from my own pocket to take him along with me. It is not an entitlement. It is education for him.”

Here are some details on all the eight Group III contenders.

Cambodia: Gained promotion to Group III on debut at Doha in 2012, winning round robin matches against Jordan, Singapore, Qatar and Myanmar followed by a promotional play-off victory against Turkmenistan. In 2013, Cambodia retained the Group status in Dubai.

UAE: Got promoted to Group III at Doha, along with Cambodia, by beating Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Turkmenistan in the round-robin phase before beating Qatar in the play-off. Stayed in Group III at Dubai. UAE first played Davis Cup in 1993 and the team’s best performance came in 2002, when they finishing third in Group III.

Malaysia: Will figure in Group III for the third consecutive year. In 2012, they narrowly missed out on promotion to Group II after losing to Kuwait. Beat Cambodia in the promotional play-off in Dubai last year. Malaysia reached Group II second round in 1992, 2000 and 2001. They first played Davis Cup in 1957.

Lebanon: Competing in Group III for the first time since 2011 after suffering relegation from Group II at the hands of Sri Lanka last April. Lebanon first played Davis Cup in 1957 and reached Group I on four occasions in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Iran: Iran will compete in Group III in 2014 for the third straight year following their relegation from Group II in 2011. Iran played their first Davis Cup tie in 1962 and have reached the final round of Group II in 1994 and 1997.

Syria: Dropped down to Group III after losing a relegation play-off against Kuwait last year. Syria made their Davis Cup debut in 1986. Their best performance was reaching Group II’s second round in 1988.

Turkmenistan: Won a promotional ticket from Group IV last year for the first time in the country’s history. After making a Cup debut in 2004, Turkmenistan lost their first 14 ties, but picked up an inaugural win against Bahrain in 2007.

Singapore: Promoted to Group III last year along with Turkmenistan. Made their Davis Cup bow in 1984 and got up to Group II multiple times.

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