One of the world’s top-10 doubles players and Pakistan’s Davis Cup spearhead for nearly a decade Aisam Ul-Haq Qureshi is among the six players going through their paces at a pre-season camp being directed by veteran American coach Robert Davis being held in both Phnom Penh and Kep.
The coastal town of Kep has been a home away from home for Davis, who also plays an ambassadorial role for Tennis Cambodia. But for his trainee of 10 years Qureshi, who took Pakistan to the World Group playoffs in 2005 and is the only player from that country to figure in a Grand Slam final, this is his first visit to Cambodia after missing out on several previous occasions.
“Working with Robert for so long, I’ve been meaning to come to the training camp here in Cambodia for the past couple of years but it just never worked out with my schedule,” said Qureshi after the first phase of the camp, which began on Christmas Day, and ended at the Sofitel Hotel courts in Phnom Penh on Sunday.
“I’m glad it finally did work out because I’m in love with the country, and hopefully in the future I’ll be able to come back once more,” he added.
Qureshi hit the road for Kep yesterday with the five others – Gong Mao-Xin of China, Toshihide Matsui of Japan, Christopher Rungkat of Indonesia, Bun Kenny of Cambodia and Singapore’s WTA circuit regular Sarah Pang – to train there till January 2.
Like Qureshi, Gong is a first-time visitor to Cambodia. He is a regular doubles player for the Chinese Davis Cup squad. In 2011, he hit a career high ranking of 294 in singles and is currently ranked 139 in doubles.
Matsui, who made it to the final of the third leg of the GLF Tep Khunnah Open earlier this month, represents the main sponsors of the Cambodian Futures series GL Finance. With Davis as his personal coach, the Osaka-born player plans to train more often in Cambodia and continues to be as zestful as ever despite being in his mid 30s.
Ranked as high as 241, Christopher Rungkat is no stranger to Cambodia having played many Futures events in Phnom Penh and trained with the Kingdom’s national team on numerous occasions. He was star of the Indonesian triumph when the country hosted the SEA Games in 2011, picking up four gold medals.
Pang, formerly of Sports Singapore, is here to train in preparation ahead of the 28th SEA Games her country will be hosting in June next year. She had been here twice before – once with a team from Sports Singapore and the second time with a similar Robert Davis camp.
For Cambodia’s Davis Cup pivot Bun Kenny, who holds a 11-2 win-loss singles record in three years of participation, the camp could not have come at a better time. Apart from the Asia/Oceania Group III campaign next year, he has the all-important Singapore SEA Games assignment.
“Cambodia is a great setting for such a camp. It’s not so well-known as a tennis destination, but we’re trying to change that,” Davis told the Post on Sunday.
“Many players take the off-season lightly, but the players here are different and the purpose of being here is that they are ready for 2015. So hopefully players of the top level such as Aisam Qureshi joining in will spread the word about Tennis in Cambodia.”
Davis has Cambodian Davis Cupper Mam Phalkun assisting him in running the camp.
While Tennis Cambodia is happy to have players of such repute training in its backyard, it is also thankful to Qureshi in particular. Through his renowned Stop War Start Tennis Foundation, the Pakistani has split the charges on a shipment of wheelchairs from the international charity Motivation with world governing body, the International Tennis Federation.
The wheelchairs, to be distributed among the handicapped players in Battambang sometime next month, reached Phnom Penh on Saturday morning.