The Cambodian National Tennis team returned to Phnom Penh from Dubai on Tuesday after completing their 2013 Davis Cup Asia Oceania Group III campaign. The Kingdom retained Group III status for next year’s competition by finishing fourth behind Vietnam, Hong Kong and Malaysia following promotional play-offs.
In this interview with the Post’s sports writer H S Manjunath, Cambodia’s non-playing captain Tep Rithivit opened up on his team’s triumphs and travails during a flaming week that saw them overwhelm United Arab Emirates and Pacific Oceania in the preliminary phase by enduring some serious health scares samong players.
What does retaining a place in Group III mean for Cambodia in general and you in particular?
We went into this group for the first time after promotion from Group IV last year. Before we set out safeguarding the status was our primary goal. Now we have confirmed that we belong to this class.
For me, it is a personal achievement since players had to be re-motivated after Myanmar backed out as a host in April. It is statement that Cambodia will be a contender in this oldest team competition.
The team went through several ups and downs in this cramped five-tie schedule. Take us back to that range of emotions in the Cambodian camp.
It was definitely a roller-coaster ride. Scary yet sensational. It is an emotionally charged atmosphere for a non-playing captain sitting next to players losing and winning points, caught as they always are in their own mind sets.
The loss to Vietnam at the start was a wake up call. When we reached the hotel I decided to alert them to the task ahead. I ordered a late night 40-minute speed jogging for every one including the coaching staff.
Cambodia does not take a loss like that lying down. The message was well received. We won the next two ties.
Where do you think the tide turned Cambodia’s way?
It was just after Cambodia had lost the first singles rubber against UAE and [Bun] Kenny was down a set in the second. I had a brief chat with Kenny on the bench.
Simple – go big or go home. He went in transformed and never looked back. Our President HE Cham Prasidh wrote me a letter saying 15 million Cambodians were counting on us. I am glad we didn’t let them down.
What positives do you take away from Dubai?
First of all, Dubai was an eye-opener in many ways. The players wore courage on their sleeves and drove home the point that no matter how difficult it may seem, there are no mountains high enough to conquer if your reasons are justified.
I simply asked my players to make our opponents pay a high price for every ball they earned. It worked.
Sitting on that captain’s chair, what was your worst moment and your best?
The worst was when [Mam] Panhara went down with cramps on both legs and I had to carry him out of the court and the best was when Kenny took the second match against UAE making the tie 1-1. I knew then that our destiny was to win the doubles match and the tie.
Going by what happened in Dubai, do you feel the need for a strong second line?
We need to absolutely build a second line in order to perform well in Group III next year and get to Group II. With a good second line, we will be able to remain in Group II. Reaching the top is the easier part, staying there is a real challenge.
There was a huge outpouring of support on the social media and by your TFC partners. How did this impact the team?
We are extremely humbled by the constant flow good wishes and congratulations from our fans and friends throughout the world.
None of this could have happened without our sponsoring partners such as NagaWorld, our main partner, and GLF and Coca-Cola, our co-partners.