The Cambodian tennis community will enjoy the rare privilege of being in the company of Australian legend Pat Cash when the 1987 Wimbledon champion, who anchors CNN’s popular monthly tennis show Open Court, lands in Phnom Penh on Sunday evening for his first ever visit to the Kingdom.
Although his three-day trip is purely private in nature, Tennis Cambodia will occupy most of his time from the moment he touches down until he flies out on Tuesday morning.
The Cash tennis flow starts with a short playing session with kids less than an hour after his arrival right on the roof top of entertainment and gaming hub NagaWorld, where a mini court is to be set up on the existing synthetic grass flooring.
A dinner with the city’s social and tennis elite the same night follows his meeting with some of the expats who play Aussie rules football here.
On Monday morning, Cash will visit two Holy Baby schools for orphans at Koh Krabei and Boueng Khyang villages in Kandal province.
But the most memorable moment of his trip, one which Cambodian tennis will also savour for a long time, will probably be at noon when he meets the 66-year-old maestro Yi Sarun, one of only three tennis players to survive the Khmer Rouge era.
The two will spend some playing time at the National Training Centre before Cash meets the local media at the Cambodian Country Club.
Next on the list of his engagements for the day is a dash to the coastal city of Kep, where he will meet tennis trainees at the ASPECA Orphanage and also visit the Tennis Academy of Kep. He will be back from Kep on Tuesday morning to catch his return flight.
Cambodian tennis was featured prominently in Cash’s Open Court in late 2011 when a CNN crew followed Indian Davis Cupper Leander Paes who had then been named as the Tennis Federation of Cambodia’s first Global Goodwill Ambassador. Since the airing of that program, Cambodia has made huge strides having joined the Davis Cup fold in 2012 and set in motion several junior development initiatives.
It is highly likely that Cash during this visit will review the progress and possibly sketch out a follow-up Open Court feature.
“We are excited with this visit. His style and brand of tennis and his attitude towards the game makes him someone very special and we are privileged to have him here,” TFC secretary-general Tep Rithivit told the Post yesterday.
“It is a rare opportunity for our kids to get close and personal with a legend like Cash. That experience of sharing those magical moments in itself will be inspiring for them,” Tep Rithivit pointed out.
A hard-fighting serve-and-volleyer in his salad days, Cash’s unique black and white checked headband and cross earrings gave him a distinct on court look.
Now 48, the globetrotting Australian brings a refreshingly bold perspective to all aspects of tennis in his own inimitable style, featuring old masters, present celebs and wannabees.
No topic or issue is off limits in his magazine presentation just like the aggressive and intensely competitive way he played his tennis – never to be taken for granted at any time, any day.
His Wimbledon triumph in ’87, the first by an Australian since the drooping mustached John Newcombe in 1971, famously prompted an all-time great headline in an English newspaper: “Cash is better than Czech”, extolling the virtues of Cash’s phenomenal win over the then-world No 1 Ivan Lendl in the final, having beaten Mats Wilander and Jimmy Connors en route.
But more than that memorable moment in Cash’s tennis life, what he did after the match point had been won will for ever be part of Wimbledon folklore. He broke a time-honoured convention that left some of the officials of the haloed club red-faced by climbing up the stands before the ceremonial trophy presentations by the Duke and Duchess of Kent to be with his family and friends in the players box. No one had ever dared to break that most sacred of Wimbledon routines.
Cash first came to world’s attention in 1982 after he won the junior titles at both Wimbledon and US Open. He turned a pro the same year and in the next six years he spent on the men’s circuit, Cash reached his career high ranking of world number 4 in May 1988.
Injury cut short his career, the highlights of which was his win over Joachim Nystrom of Sweden in Australia’s 3-2 win in 1983 when Cash became the youngest ever to play in a Davis Cup final.
Cash also recorded the biggest ever one-tournament jump in rankings from 413th to 99th after making the Wimbledon quarter-finals as a wildcard in 1986. No one has matched that record since rankings were introduced in 1973.