Thailand’s Davis Cup star Danai Udomchoke is no stranger to Cambodian tennis. The relationship goes a long way back.
The Tennis Federation of Cambodia was only too happy to give Danai a wild card for the first of two Futures events in Phnom Penh early last year when he sought one.
The 30-year-old Thai duly stamped his mark with a grand double, winning the singles title with ease before picking up the doubles in the company of his compatriot Kittipong Wachiramanowong. That victory marked Danai’s second wind, which has now taken him to a current ranking of 167th from around 420th back then.
The genial giant of Asian tennis was in Phnom Penh again earlier last month, bonding with some of the Cambodia national team members and sharing with them his substantial Cup experience while passing them some useful tips on team competitions.
Danai holds Thailand’s best Davis Cup singles record of 37-16. The 2006 Doha Asian Games gold medallist was ranked as high as 77th a few years ago and is still breathing fire to recapture his rightful place in the world’s top 100.
In this exclusive chat with Post sports writer H S Manjunath, Danai Udomchoke discusses Cambodia’s ensuing Davis Cup campaign in Doha next week and has some sound advice for the competition debutants.
How different is Davis Cup play compared to regular tournaments, and how significant is it for a country to be involved?
It is so different. In Davis Cup, you have to play for everyone in your country. You are playing under your country’s flag and carry the aspirations of the people you represent. In a tournament, you play for yourself, and that’s a lot easier.
What is the most crucial aspect of Davis Cup preparation, especially for newcomers like Cambodia?
The most important aspect is to prepare for pressure situations. The team has to stay strong mentally and physically and be ready for tough, long matches because Davis Cup is best of five sets, whereas you play only three in tournaments.
You have been a regular Davis Cup player for nearly 15 years. What is your advice for players making their first appearance in a Davis Cup?
There will be a tinge of nervousness, for sure. That is because you have to do something you are not used to. In doing so, you bring pressure upon yourself. So the key is to stay relaxed and to play to your natural game. Avoid panic.
You have played under non-playing captains in your career. What are your thoughts on the role of a non-playing captain, and how crucial is it in team estimation?
This is a very important job. A non-playing captain has to be with the player during the match and inspire him to bring out his best.
A non-playing captain has to be a thinker. He has to not only watch his own player but also keep an eye on his opponent. What is vital is that a non-playing captain has to ensure that his player is staying focused. A non-playing captain also plays an important role off-court in handling the media.
In the Cambodian context, how would you counsel Tep Rithivit, the squad’s non-playing captain?
Though I have played under non-playing captains, I have never been one. But all I can say is that it is not an easy job. You need to bond with the players for sure.
Help players with their self-belief and also keep a tactical eye open to advise them when things are not working well on the court.
But knowing Tep Rithivit and his tennis background, I feel he will make a good non-playing captain.
What is your most cherished moment in Davis Cup play?
Fortunately, I have two of those grand moments. First, was when I beat Tommy Haas in five sets away in Germany.
The second was when I defeated Australian Lleyton Hewitt in five sets in my home town. These two matches are unforgettable.
What is your one-line advice to the Cambodian team bound for Doha?
Stay well focused, and you will do well.
To contact the reporter on this story: H S Manjunath at email@example.com