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Clay court concerns allayed

Cambodia's Mam Panhara (left) plays a shot as his brother and teammate Mam Phalkun watches on during a training session at Olympic Stadium on Tuesday morning
Cambodia's Mam Panhara (left) plays a shot as his brother and teammate Mam Phalkun watches on during a training session at Olympic Stadium on Tuesday morning. Sreng Meng Srun

Clay court concerns allayed

Ivan Lendl famously once remarked “Grass is for cows”, with frustration pouring out of the former world number one after grass shattered his Wimbledon dreams year after year.

In the realm of competitive tennis, players come to either love or loathe a particular playing surface.

Such challenges are nothing new for competitive players and Davis Cup territory throws up more of them all the time.

With a mere two years of Davis Cup experience on hard courts, Cambodian players now face a red clay dilemma in two weeks when they get down to Asia/Oceania Group III business in Tehran.

Adding another layer of anxiety is the Iranian capital’s altitude ranging from 1,200 to 1,700 metres above sea level – a climactic condition none of the Kingdom’s men have ever had to deal with before.

We will not let these unknown factors prey on our minds. Instead, we are ready to confront them.

This strong sentiment is shared by both nonplaying captain Tep Rithivit and head coach Braen Aneiros, who in his Davis Cup days playing for Panama has had a brush himself with such hardships.

Tennis Cambodia has worked out a sound plan to address these two vital issues apart from putting the players through a vigorous fitness training regimen well above the levels touched during the Doha and Dubai campaigns.

The greater emphasis on physical training is to cope with the considerable demands of clay courts, where the ball is normally in play for much longer than any other surface and matches are often long-drawn affairs.

A high level of fitness could be far more vital in Iran because Cambodia will have to play four ties of three rubbers each on consecutive days.

Interestingly, the team’s singles pivots, Bun Kenny and Mam Panhara, have had some clay court time at different stages of their career – Kenny in his early teens back in France and the US-based Panhara as recently as 2010, when he spent about three months in Brazil.

“We get a clearer sense of how the players feel only after we complete our one-week intense practice on clay courts in Bangkok beginning next week,” Aneiros told the Post yesterday. “Fortunately, we reach Tehran at least six days before we start our Group matches and that should help our players acclimatise with the conditions and also give us a chance to get on to the outdoor red clay courts at the Enghelab Sports Complex.”

Tep Rithivit, who will sit in the captain’s chair for the third season, said the preparations in the next 12 days should help the team get over whatever concerns they had about the surface and climate. “I am confident our players will do well in Iran,” he added.

Home advantage and years of experience in Group II, give Iran an edge over others in this race for promotion from Group III. Both Syria and Lebanon have also figured in the higher grade before, while Cambodia, Malaysia and United Arab Emirates retained their Group III status in Dubai last year.

Singapore and Turkmenistan, both were squarely beaten by Cambodia in Doha in 2012, earned promotion to this class from Group IV last year.

Coach Braen Aneiros and the four players – Bun Kenny, Mam Panhara, Mam Phalkun and Long Samneang – will leave Phnom Penh for Bangkok on Saturday. Tep Rithivit will reach Bangkok on June 5 and the Cambodian squad leaves for Tehran the next day.

Though the weeklong competition opens on June 9, Cambodia is scheduled to play its first group tie two days later.

The eight contenders will be split into two groups of four, with the top two of each making it to promotional playoffs and the bottom two going into relegation playoffs. The two winners of each promotional round will automatically move up to Group II for the 2015 campaign, while the two losers of the relegation battles drop down to Group IV.

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