Wheelchair tennis development expert Suzie Dyrbus and player ambassador Anthony Bonacurrso completed a successful four-day training camp in Phnom Penh on Monday, one that moved the International Tennis Federation-funded two-year project involving 10 players from Battambang to the next level.
While the two earlier camps held by Australians Joe Kubizniak and Greg Crump were at the La Paloma Center for the Disabled in Battambang on the only available community cement court there, Dyrbus and Bonacurrso conducted their camp at the National Training Center, giving the visiting players their first feel of a fully fledged, international standard court on a well maintained plexi surface.
“To be able to see all of the players for the first time after beginning contact with Tennis Cambodia and their wheelchair tennis program two years ago was indeed a great feeling. There is so much enthusiasm, energy and enterprise for this program here, and it is heading in a very good direction", Dyrbus told the Post.
“Now the two-year project funding has reached its end but there are lot of other developmental programs and grants that Cambodia can utilise,” she said.
Bonacurrso said: “It was nice to be back here in Cambodia again. I was with Greg Crump the first time several months ago and I have seen very good improvement.
I am confident the players have learnt heaps from this camp and seemed to have improved so much over very little time."
But in the midst of a busy camp schedule, Bonacurrso had a pleasant surprise: Tennis Cambodia has named him as a goodwill ambassador for a sport the Kingdom has now firmly embraced.
The offer to elevate Bonacurrso, who was a member of the Australian World Team Cup-winning squad in Italy 13 years ago, came from the secretary-general of the Federation, Tep Rithivit.
It was readily accepted by the 41-year-old Bonacurrso, who reached a career-high world ranking of 16 during his playing days.
“We were really happy that Bonacurrso came back for a second visit and this shows that, despite his busy schedule and obligations back in Australia, he is committed and determined to really help make an impact and grow our wheelchair program," Tep Rithivit said.
“He has made a huge impact on the players who look at him as a role model for all his achievements on the court and the circumstances that brought him into the sport.
“With his role as an ambassador, the sport could not have been better served in Cambodia,” he said.
Tep Rithivit, who was one of Southeast Asian leaders to be invited as a special guest during the WTA Finals in Singapore, met with the CEO of Sports Singapore, Lim Teck Yin, and raised the possibility of a collaboration between the two regional neighbours in the area of developing wheelchair tennis.
Malaysia has also expressed its willingness to join Cambodia and Singapore. An invitation is already waiting for Bonacurrso to head these proposed training camps.
During the camp, players in the 10 to 27 age range from the La Paloma Center were put through various aspects of wheelchair tennis, such as movement, recovery and the most vital of all, chair skills.
Along with the players, Tennis Cambodia coaches were also drawn in for special sessions by both Dyrbus and Bonacurrso.
“There was a very interesting competition among the players and that was the perfect way to end the training.
It was great insight for coaches like us to see players compete,” said head of Junior Development Phalkun Mam, who is also in charge of the wheelchair tennis program.
“We hope that we can continue to bring to our players in La Paloma the same structure and pathway offered to able bodied players”, he said.