After splitting the first two tennis singles rubbers, Cambodia faltered in the decisive doubles to go down 2-1 to Syria in their opening Pool A tie, as the Davis Cup Asia Oceania Group III series rolled into action at Tehran’s Enghelab Sports Complex on Wednesday.
Cambodia’s first-day blues was brought about by the Abdelnour brothers, Marc and Bruno, who struck all the right notes in the doubles even as the Cambodian pair of Bun Kenny and Mam Phalkun lost their footing at a stage when instead of pushing the first set to a tie breaker they ended up losing it.
The Cambodian pair were quickly overrun in the second for a 7-5, 6-2 defeat that somewhat cruelly obscured a gallant Bun Kenny-inspired fight back in the singles. Earlier, Mam Panhara had been squarely beaten by Bruno Abdelnour 6-3, 6-2 on the red dirt which happens to be the Syrian’’s pet surface.
Once Panhara slipped from 40-love on his serve to surrender the game midway through the first set, Bruno began to corner his rival with good court coverage and deep ground strokes. The second set fell into the same painful pattern for the Cambodian.
The loss of the first rubber meant extra weight on Bun Kenny’s shoulders when he faced Syria’s No 1 nomination Marc Abdelnour, a Canadian-born right-hander who at 670th is a few hundred places above the highest position the Cambodian pivot, who no longer has ranking points, achieved in official ATP world rankings.
But that ATP classification didn’t mean much on the court as Kenny stayed solid in the first set, lapsed into a few errors in the second, and worked his way back and kept his nerve in a tense tie-breaker after enduring a mini-break to shut out the match at 6-4, 7-6.
The contest was the best of the round by a mile, marked as it was by often long and merited baseline rallies, especially in the second set, with the two keeping the ball in play for a dozen or more times to settle a point.
This gripping on court drama drew quite a sizeable crowd which included scores of local fans, players and officials from other teams apart from casual visitors to the complex. Unfortunately Cambodia, after this bold push back, stumbled at the next hurdle.
The Kingdom are to take on Turkmenistan and Malaysia in the next two pool matches in search of a place in the promotional playoffs awarded to the top four teams.
Meanwhile Malaysia, who got the measure of Turkmenistan 2-1, will next meet Syria.
Despite the loss, Cambodia’s non-playing captain Tep Rithivit is counting on several positives from the tie to work in favour of his side in their next two matches.
“Overall, it was a much better first day than last year when we lost 3-0 to Vietnam. Even though we came up short, the matches were closer and competitive, which keeps our enthusiasm alive for the rest of the event,” he told the Post.
“A few crucial errors cost us the doubles and possibly the tie. But we learn from our failings and I am confident the boys will put this loss behind them and do well in the next two ties.”