Dave Miley, the International Tennis Federation’s Executive Director of Development, ended his three-day visit to Cambodia yesterday. He granted an exclusive interview at the National Training Centre with Phnom Penh Post Sports reporter H S Manjunath to discuss various aspects of his tour, his impressions on the Tennis Federation of Cambodia and their junior programmes, and the Kingdom’s impending reentry into the Davis Cup competition after decades of isolation.
Cambodia will be rejoining the Davis Cup competition next year. In the ITF’s developmental perspective, how big a step is this for the Kingdom?
From the ITF’s point of view it is very good to see Cambodia back playing the Davis Cup. We know that they played many years ago, but did not stay in the competition for a long time. It is great to [have Cambodia] playing again.
The country has a couple of good players with world rankings. But Davis Cup involves a team of four. So hopefully some of the young players coming through are going to be part of the team when the country plays the event in 2012.
I think the key thing is to ensure that the Cup players get a lot of tough competitive exposure in the lead up so that they are ready to play and hopefully gain promotion from Group 4 to 3.
It would be great if, in the future, Cambodia is in a position to host Group 3 or 4 zonals [regional match-ups], and obviously all you need for this are more courts. The Government here could possibly take a look at this and provide a facility with more courts. It is hard to manage zonals with just three or four courts.
But the first thing is that Cambodia is taking part in one of the oldest and the most famous team competitions in the world, and hopefully it will generate a lot of interest in tennis [here].
The ITF provided partial financial help to build the National Training Centre. Is there a possibility that the Facility Grant could be extended to help TFC take tennis to the provinces and create more courts?
Investment in facilities is very important. We do recognise the fact that it would be very difficult for the TFC to develop tennis if they did not have their own facility to bring in players and train them.
It was great to be involved in the development of the NTC. We were in involved in a small way through the Grand Slam Development Fund. First a grant of US$20,000, and now another one which would hopefully cover their needs for some floodlighting.
The first thing is that we were happy to be involved and to see the facility come up. I know two Futures events were held recently.
We are here to help member nations and ITF considers Cambodia a very important member, who at the moment is doing a very good job. It is remarkbale that the Federation has also been good at raising funds.
The introduction of new templates regarding the ITF’s 5-Year Plan has helped many emerging federations. Is Cambodia included in that programme?
Absolutely. We are providing assistance to probably 150 countries a year in many different ways. Sometimes with equipment, sometimes with coaching, sometimes with funding for facilities etc.
One thing I feel strongly about is that we do not want to provide assistance to a federation which has no plan.
[The plan should include] what they would like to have in say one, three or five years time, recognising the fact that often we don’t achieve everything we set out for. Once that plan is in place, we would be happy to assist the federation to shape those plans.
I know when my colleague Suresh Menon, the development officer for the region, was here a couple of years ago, the objective was to build a training centre.
And now you have the training centre and we were able to support that objective. I think in the future you would like to have junior ITF and more events.
I had a look at Cambodia’s five year plan that Suresh Menon sent me. It seems challenging, [but] at the same time realistic. Certainly if you go by what Cambodia has achieved in the last few years, what they are setting out for is achievable.
How important is mini tennis and what are your impressions of what you saw at one of those camps you visited at Phnom Penh’s Preah Norodom school?
Mini tennis is very important, but we are rebranding mini tennis as Tennis 10s. Mini tennis was very much a training sort and now tennis 10s is going to be played with slower balls and smaller courts, making it a lot more easier. Tennis 10s will become a global name.
What I saw at the Preah Norodom School was very encouraging, using an area that could have been used for any other purpose. This is something which will help the federation in a country like Cambodia, because the area of development we would like to focus on is under 14s.
First to get a very good base of players between 6 and 10 [years old]. The best players will come through and start playing with the regular ball, perhaps eventually representing Cambodia in regional circuits in Southeast Asia and having a chance to be in ITF teams playing outside Asia – hopefully becoming top players in the region and then the world.
There lot of examples of players who achieved great success in Asia – like [Paradorn] Srichapan, Leander [Paes], and now Yuki Bhambri. You have to work steady but slow.
You have got the Davis Cup which has got a good profile – you have got the Futures [events] which offers good exposure. The real work will be in Tennis 10s, with lot of players playing and making sure that best of those players between 10 and 14 take up the next level. You have a very good coach in Braen Aneiros and should look forward to good results in the next few years.
Can you elaborate on ITF’s newest venture, the Adult Tennis Express?
One of the stiffest challenges for the world governing body is to reposition tennis, because there was this perception in the past that tennis was difficult, expensive and inaccessible.
Sometimes, starting to play was little bit boring. What we are trying to do is to reshape it and make it more easy and healthy. The easy part is that if we make adults start with slower balls they can learn [with] very quickly. So our plans next year is to launch a programme called Adult Tennis Express.
They can get to play tennis very quickly and in an active and very dynamic way. So they are not standing around but actually playing the game from the start. This way we can retain a lot of players and keep them interested in the game longer.
Your stated intention was to see first hand the good things you had heard about Cambodian Tennis. How would you sum up what you have seen?
I have seen first hand what I had been told for a while. Suresh Menon and Anil Khanna from the Asian Tennis Federation had told me about a fantastic example of a country which five or six years ago was struggling.
We helped a little bit, but Cambodia has a fantastic federation here and Secretary General Tep Rithivit is doing a lot of work. In a short time, the Federation has emerged as a good example for development.
Cambodia has now a player who has won [two] bronze medals at the SEA Games, two players with world rankings, and this is not an easy thing to do. It has a good tennis centre - I am impressed.
There is still a lot of work to do. The base of young players is not big enough. Probably there aren’t enough coaches. The reason I am here is not just to be impressed, but to look and see through the meetings we are having as to how we can help further develop tennis in Cambodia.