The Tennis Federation of Cambodia's week-long pre-season camp, which opened in the seaside town of Kep yesterday on the freshly resurfaced court at Villa Romonea, bears an international flavour.
With the Asia-Oceania Group III Davis Cup campaign beckoning Cambodia in the next few months, the Kep camp is the TFC’s grand design to ensure good training in an enjoyable environment for the country’s best player, Bun Kenny, in the company of players from Japan, Thailand and Myanmar.
The headliner of the camp, Pakistani top gun Aisam Qureshi, had to delay his arrival in Kep by at least a week to give himself time for a shoulder injury to heal.
Three other Cambodian players – Orn Sambath, Long Samneang and his brother Long Chumneth – had to skip the camp because they are in Vientiane for the 16th ASEAN University Games.
Making the camp, however, is former world junior No 1 and 2009 junior Wimbledon winner Noppawan Lertcheewakarn, who is now a regular WTA Tour member. The 21-year-old from Thailand has an outstanding record and a unique playing style in which she goes double-handed on both flanks. She is joined by her compatriots, the Ratiwatana twins Sanchai and Sonchat.
Japanese veteran Katsushi Fukuda brings his indomitable fighting spirit to Kep, and three players from Myanmar – Min Min, Aung Naing and Win Naing Oo – complete the field.
Cambodian national coach Braen Aneiros is in charge, along with Myanmar Tennis Federation technical director Robert Davis, who has trained the Thai players for several years and is now coaching the Myanmar national team, sharing his enormous experience and expertise.
“The idea of this camp is to create a chance for these players to train well and enjoy the sea and the mountains, and there's no better place than Kep, which offers so many exciting prospects like mountain biking, cross-country running, and kayaking,” TFC secretary-general Tep Rithivit told the Post yesterday.
“The year ahead of us is very significant – the Davis Cup Group III, the next batch of Futures, and the year-ending SEA Games in Myanmar.
“So the pre-season preparations are very important, and we thought of this novel way of bringing players from the region together, highlighting good relations between the federations too.”
Apart from hard training and adventurism off court, the players will be involved in promoting social causes and spreading the message of tennis among less privileged sections of the community.
All the campers will visit the ASP-ECA Orphanage, where as many as 30 boys and girls are engaged in the Tennis 10s program. The overseas players will also pay a visit to the Ayravady School, which has a mini-tennis program of its own.
“The biggest beneficiary will be Kep and its tennis community,” says Stephane Arrii, the manager of Villa Romonea, a popular boutique hotel. Dating from the mid-1960s, it was the last fashionable villa to be construc-ted in the town.
The decrepit old tennis court in the hotel complex — the only one in Kep — has been given a complete make-over, with the TFC and Villa Romonea sharing the cost.
Having been resurfaced with Plexipave, it now conforms to the ATP's standards.
“It is a win-win for us and the TFC, and I am happy the young kids from the orphanages can now play regularly on a full-blown court. It is also to the benefit of all those who choose to play here,” Arrii said.
Tep Rithivit praised the collaboration between the Tennis Federation of Cambodia and the hotel.
“Where there is a will, there is a tennis court, and we couldn't have asked for a better one than this. Villa Romonea has been very supportive,” he said.
The camp concludes on Saturday, but the excitement in the town lingers for a few more days once famed pro Qureshi touches down on either December 23 or 24.
The Pakistani Davis Cupper, who is ranked among the world’s top 10 in doubles, is a member of the prestigious Champions for Peace club, a group of 54 athletes committed to serving peace in the world through sport, created by the Monaco-based international organisation Peace and Sport.
Qureshi and his Indian partner Rohan Bopanna created a campaign – Stop War. Start Tennis – with the ultimate aim of playing a match on the troubled border between India and Pakistan.
Qureshi also teamed with Israel’s Amir Hadad at Wimbledon and the US Open in 2002. This rare integration of two differing faiths on a tennis court earned the duo the Arthur Ashe Humanitarian of the Year Award for playing together despite resistance from their communities.