The SEA Games bound national tennis squad reached the seaside town of Kep on Sunday for a four-day chill out ahead of their departure Thursday to Indonesia.
After nearly two months of rigorous training in Phnom Penh, a trip to one of Cambodia’s top holiday destinations is to give players and the coaching staff some quality time to relax and go about fitness routines through mountain climbing and beach running.
“We at the Tennis Federation of Cambodia felt that the team needed a break after all those tough workouts. A bit of sun, sand and light training will help them keep in good mental shape before they take up this huge challenge in Palembang next week,” TFC Secretary General Tep Rithivit told the Post yesterday.
“Of course there will also be a light training session for them on the only tennis court available in town. It is more about helping players to deal with their jangling nerves before a big event like the SEA Games - it’s not by any means a pleasure trip.
“A few days spent in a place like Kep will certainly help them to deal with the pressure better at the same time keeping their focus intact,” he added.
The enigmatic Tan Nysan produced a bronze medal for Cambodia in each of the last two SEA Games tournaments, much against odds and expectations. The turn around was remarkable since those medals in Thailand (2007) and Laos (2009) came 10 years after Cambodia’s disastrous 1997 debut when the team failed to win a single game.
The Kingdom’s hopes of a medal are firmly pinned on Bun Kenny, who is far more refined and well tuned as a touring player now than he was when he made his SEA Games bow in Laos two years ago.
“He was just a rookie then, who sat by and cheered Tan Nysan. Now he is a bright prospect and if he plays to his known best he could well be our medalist,” said Tep Rithivit, who incidentally led the
national team on court at the 1997 Jakarta Games.
In the last 53 weeks, Kenny has bagged four ATP points on the circuit, jumping nearly 400 places on the world ranking list. Kenny’s current ranking of 1,212th is still way off some of the region’s big guns like Danai Udomchoke of Thailand (217th) or Christopher Rungkat of Indonesia (439th), but the Cambodian right hander is certainly capable of ruffling a few feathers on his day.
The second singles option for the Kingdom is relatively inexperienced Orn Sambath. The trip to Indonesia could be a rewarding for the 17-year-old, who had the first taste of an international event outside the country only last month. Sambath failed to qualify in the Laos F1 Futures tournament but he is just beginning to pick up the threads.
“Kenny has improved a lot in the last one year. The competition in Indonesia will be very tough. There are some well established players from Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines taking part here but I expect Kenny to do well,” national coach Braen Aneiros told the Post yesterday.
New French recruit Andrea Ka adds an interesting dimension to the team’s chances of picking up a medal in women’s singles. The 19-year old Ka, whose Cambodian parents migrated to France in the mid 1970s, joined the training two months ago after a self imposed break of nearly a year.
“There is an amazing change in her game now and she is so eager and motivated to play for Cambodia. She may run into some really good players, especially from Thailand, but her grit should carry her through,” added Aneiros.
While the Cambodian players see Tan Nysan as their inspiration and benchmark, the Federation has its own perception about the SEA Games and its possible impact on tennis development.
“Personally I am going through mixed emotions. I am feeling proud but also nostalgic about the difficult and challenging early years,” said Tep Rithivit.
“I am convinced that my players and the coaching staff are fully aware of their mission in Indonesia this year. We play for national pride. We play for all the Khmer tennis players who disappeared during the Khmer Rouge era. We carry their voices and wish to echo them to the world.”