The Tennis Federation of Cambodia’s new French-born, Paris-based recruit Andrea Ka began training under national head coach Braen Aneiros at the National Training Centre on Monday ahead of her SEA Games women’s singles debut in Indonesia next month.
The 19-year-old daughter of Cambodian parents, who migrated to France in the mid 70s, resumes competitive tennis after a self imposed break of nearly a year to finish her studies. She will attend university in the US early next year.
What Ka has on her mind now, however, is all tennis, with her attention focused firmly on the Indonesian trip which she reckons will reshape her playing career.
“I have been off the court for so long now. I felt a little bit rusty when I took the court but I will get used to it,” she told the Post after a two-hour workout with Braen Aneiros and other members of the national team on Monday.
“It is a question of time and getting back into the groove.”
Aneiros promised to put the rising star through a “tough one month training regimen.”
“My aim is to help her get back to her physical and mental best and regain her touch and timing. Coming back from a spell is always difficult but I am confident she will get her footing in time for the SEA Games,” he said.
For Andrea’s parents, who are here with her, it has been an emotional reunion of sorts with their homeland. Andrea’s father left for France before the Khmer Rouge occupation, but her mother spent nearly three years of hardship after being moved from her Phnom Penh home to a desolate town bordering Vietnam.
“My parents knew each other in Cambodia but they got married after,” said Andrea, the youngest of three daughters. “My mother managed to reach France four years after my father.”
Andrea claims she always wanted to play for Cambodia, but couldn’t work out the logistics. “Now that it has happened I am extremely happy,” she added.
A fortunate set of circumstances had brought the teenager in contact with the Tennis Federation of Cambodia. “Common friends of my family and Andrea’s brought us together during my vacation in France a couple of months ago,” said TFC Secretary General Tep Rithivit.
“I met her parents and I saw her tennis videos and I got to know quite a lot about her performances on the ITF junior circuit and in the WTA. I saw a lot of positives, and here we are.
“She was more than willing and her parents were very supportive of the idea, and now the TFC not only has a player in the women’s draw, but can reasonably hope for a medal,” the Secretary added.
From an 8-year-old starter, Andrea developed fast enough to get into the ITF junior circuit in her early teens. Although major successes eluded her, she was a totally transformed player when she hit the WTA tour at the age of 17.
She reached her best world ranking of 766 in July last year, twice making the quarterfinals of tournaments across Europe. However, her success in doubles was far more notable.
She won two tour victories with different partners - Celine Ghesquiere and Audrey Bergot. At about the same time she had her best doubles ranking of 805.
Like most teenagers, Andrea had to weigh her career options against her tennis pursuits and she decided in July last year to take a break from the game and finish her high school diploma.
She has returned to the court for the time being, but will travel to the US in January for a degree course at the University of South Carolina.
“That doesn’t bother me at all. I know I can keep playing. [The] US is a great place for tennis. But I want to be part of Cambodian tennis as and when I can,” she said.
“We don’t want this to be just a one-off for the sake of SEA Games,” added Tep Rithivit.
“Of course we want her to do well in Indonesia and possibly win us a medal. But we are looking far beyond that. We want her to be part of our tennis development. Imagine if we can get one more player of her kind Cambodia could even be part of the FedEx Cup in the future.”
The long absence from competitive tennis has seen Andrea’s WTA rankings drop past the 1000 mark. But for her it hardly matters. “I will be playing for my country at last. What more can I ask for,” she said.