Thailand’s top tennis player Danai Udomchoke arrived in Phnom Penh late on Wednesday evening on a four-day goodwill visit to bond and train with the Cambodian national team members ahead of the Kingdom’s historic Asia-Oceania Group IV Davis Cup debut in Doha on April 16.
Sreng Meng Srun/Phnom Penh Post
Thailand’s No 1 tennis player Danai Udomchoke (second left) and TFC General Secretary Tep Rithivit (left) in Steng Meanchey district yesterday evening.
A delayed flight from Bangkok cut into Danai’s sparring schedule with Cambodia’s No 1 Bun Kenny, who had his own packing to do for his yesterday morning departure to India for two Futures events.
“I would have loved a session with Kenny, but we just couldn’t make it. By the time I reached the National Training Centre, Kenny had to leave and I had workouts with national coach Braen Aneiros and other members of the national team,” Danai told the Post yesterday in an exclusive interview.
A trip to Stung Meanchey-based charity organisation Pour un Sourire d’Enfant (PSE) was his most important engagement yesterday.
PSE in league with the Tennis Federation of Cambodia is running a tennis programme for boys and girls rescued for rehabilitation from the notorious dumpsite.
“I was really moved by what I saw at PSE. I felt so good spending time with those kids who are so eager to learn tennis. This grassroots initiative is very important for development,” said the former Asian Games gold singles gold medallist.
“I must commend both PSE and the TFC for this joint drive in helping underprivileged kids reach their dreams.”
TFC Secretary General Tep Rithivit expressed his delight at the Thai star’s visit to Cambodia.
“If there were to be a congeniality contest among Asian tennis stars, [Danai] Udomchoke would have run away with the prize. He is so good as a tennis player and so down-to-earth and easy going as a person. We are happy to be associated with a personality like him,” said the secretary.
The short trip was Danai’s idea, which was quickly endorsed by the TFC.
“I have this two-week break before my playing time on the circuit begins. I have great admiration and regard for the TFC and the work they are doing and I have some fond memories of my Futures doubles triumph in Phnom Penh at about the same time last year,” said the 30-year-old, who after being 2-1 up lost a five-set thriller against Frenchman Gilles Simon in the Australian Open first round this year.
Danai has 12 years of Davis Cup experience behind him and enjoys an impressive 36-14 win-loss record in singles rubbers.
He said he was happy to see Cambodian tennis climb out of its troubles and strongly emerge as a Davis Cup nation.
“It meant a lot to me playing Davis Cup and I know how much it means for TFC. When you win a tournament, you are proud of yourself. When you win a rubber in Davis Cup the entire country is proud of you. There is a huge emotional element involved in Davis Cup that cannot be described, it has to be felt,” he said.
“It is good to know that Mr Tep Rithivit will be the non-playing captain of the national team. He has that steely determination and the mental toughness that is required for a non-playing captain to sit by the court and preside over the action. What he needs is the trust of his team and Mr Rithi has that in abundance.”
The TFC official noted that Danai was the most recognised name in Thai tennis after former world No 9, Paradorn Srichaphan.
“We at the TFC want Udomchoke to be our Goodwill Ambassador like Indian Davis Cupper Leander Paes,” said Tep Rithivit, an offer almost instantly snapped up by Danai during a meeting between the two at the TFC headquarters yesterday.
The Bangkok native responded by saying: “I am always available for Cambodian Tennis. Let me know.”
Danai’s men’s singles victory in the inaugural US$15,000 Cambodian Futures event last year, when he was ranked 421st in the world, came after his return to competitive tennis from a surgery.
His current ranking is down to 187th following his consistent showing in Challengers tournaments.
“My goal is to break into the top 100,” he said, adding that he could go on for a few more years.
The unassuming Danai also revealed his plans for when his tennis career ends, having recently joined the Royal Thai Police Force.
He will begin orientation and training sometime in November this year.
“That’s the career I am looking at once I quit tennis,” he said.
Over the next two days, the Thai No 1 will train with national team members and coach Braen Aneiros at the National Training Centre besides visiting a couple of schools where the Tennis 10s programme is ongoing.