On the train heading towards London on Monday morning, I finally decided to venture across to the leafy suburb of Wimbledon for a spot of tennis. I’d never been to the hallowed site of the All England Tennis Club, and who am I to turn down the opportunity to see both the men’s and women’s singles top seeds in action on Centre Court, arguably the most famous venue in the sport.
In the meantime, I managed to share words with Rajesh Kumar, vice president of Events, Promotion and Entertainment at NagaWorld, who are sponsoring not only my daily coverage of the London Games but also providing the Cambodian delegation with full attire and kit. They are one of the major backers of the National Olympic Committee of Cambodia, with sponsorship spanning the 2011 SEA Games in Indonesia, these Olympic Games in London and the 2013 SEA Games in Myanmar.
“It has always been an integral part of our sports marketing and corporate social responsibility strategy to develop sports in Cambodia, as well as to help identifying talent and champions,” said Kumar. “To us, sports cuts across all disciplines and boundaries, besides being a very healthy activity.”
The casino and resort official revealed he had gained access to the Olympic Village over the weekend, where he met with NOCC President Thong Khon and an Olympic-events worth of sporting superstars including US basketball star Kobe Bryant and “fastest man on Earth”, Usain Bolt of Jamaica.
“We hope our visit to the Cambodian athletes will be able to inspire them to do their utmost at these Games,” added Kumar. “We also told the athletes to always remember that Cambodia and NagaWorld will be behind them all the way, regardless of the end results.”
While admitting Cambodia stood little chance against some of the world’s best sportsmen and women, Kumar said he was looking forward to seeing some surprises in London.
“Any country has great potential to produce world class athletes provided there is proper development plans starting at a very grassroot level. Sponsors are also important from a financial perspective, and we hope to see more corporate partners coming together with us to map out development plans for the sport,” he said.
Over at Wimbledon, I found my way to the press box of Centre Court, where women’s top seed Victoria Azarenka of Belarus was facing Romania’s Irina-Camelia Begu in their women’s singles first round match.
The current world number one and Australian Open champion made light work of her lowly ranked opponent in the first set, taking it 6-1 in just 24 minutes. However, a dramatic drop in form allowed Begu to drag herself back into the match in the second to force a deciding third set.
Azarenka piqued my interest with her unique grunts and squeals accompanying every hit, sounds that could easily be mistaken for an especially intense game of Angry Birds. Still, her Midas touch returned with vigour to see her wrap things up 6-1, 3-6, 6-1.
Next up was men’s favourite Roger Federer of Switzerland, who is looking to repeat his Wimbledon success just three weeks earlier on the same court. The world’s most successful male tennis player, with a record 17 Grand Slam titles to his name including seven in London, is chasing the Olympic singles gold to complete his career Golden Slam, something only male player have achieved: American Andre Agassi and Rafael Nadal of Spain. Germany’s Steffi Graf completed it in her most memorable year – 1988.
Men’s number one Federer was up against Frenchman Julien Benneteau, ranked a full 32 places below the Swiss, in their second round clash. The gulf in class was always evident and, spurred on by the overwhelming support of a partisan crowd, Federer blasted away his opponent 6-2, 6-2.
While the sun bathed the court in glorious rays intermittently throughout the sessions, I was left shivering in the stands thanks to a considerable draft that swept across the upper sections, and a few rounds of Mexican waves did little to counter the effect of wind chill.
To contact the reporter on this story: Dan Riley at [email protected]