Cambodian Davis Cupper Bun Kenny and his 18-year-old South Korean partner, Jee Hwan Kim, came tantalisingly close to their inaugural doubles triumph on the ITF Futures Tour before being overpowered by the British pair of Andrew Fitzpatrick and Josuha Ward-Hibbert in the final at the Pho Tho Tennis Club in Ho Chi Minh City on Friday.
The scoreline of 6-4, 6-2 in favour of the British pair well concealed the spirited fight that non-regular partners Kenny and Kim put up before settling for the runners-up trophy, which is still the best doubles souvenir either of them have picked up on the circuit.
The two Ks got off to a flying start in the final, going a break up early in the first set. But at 3-2, the Brits broke the South Korean to level the scores and moved steadily ahead to wrap up the set.
In the second, Kenny and Kim were holding out bravely in every game before Fitzpatrick and Ward squeezed out the vital points that ensured decisive turns.
After ousting the top-seeded Czech pair of Roman Jabavy and Otakar Lucak 7-5, 6-2 in the first round, Kenny and Kim lasted out a nerve wracking super tie-break to get past the French pair of Medy Chettar and Thomas Leboulch 4-6, 6-2, 10-8.
The semi-final clash against Dekel Bar of Israel and Zach Itzstein of Austria saw the Cambodian-Korean combination raise to the challenge, eventually running out 6-3, 6-4 winners.
While Kenny has a few more weeks before leading Cambodia’s Mission to Myanmar for the Asia Oceania Group III Davis Cup cycle, the Korean left-hander who represented his country in the 2008 World Junior Tennis Finals and also the Junior Davis Cup the following year, is shaping up to be his country’s hope for the future.
It was particularly satisfying result for the 22-year-old Cambodian right-hander, who has taken doubles more seriously on tour recently. During the first event at Bac Lieu the previous week, Kenny with his Taiwanese partner Cheung Yu Yu made it to the semi-finals.
“It was per chance that I paired up with Kim and it worked very well for both of us. Losing the final was a bit disappointing but overall if you count the two weeks, I am happy with the results,” Bun Kenny told the Post after the final. Though he battled his way into the singles main draw through the qualifiers, he lost in the first round at Bac Lieu and Ho Chi Minh City to players who were markedly stronger than him.
Cambodia’s national coach Braen Aneiros, who is accompanying Kenny to Vietnam, said it was very important for Kenny to step up his doubles game before their Davis Cup campaign later this month in Yangon.
“He has kept his form quite well through the first two weeks, winning four singles qualifying matches and doing so well in doubles,” said Aneiros.
Mam brothers arrive
If Kenny’s doubles exploits in Vietnam meant cheer for the Tennis Federation of Cambodia (TFC), there was good news on the home front as the Mam brothers, Phalkun and Panhara, flew in to Phnom Penh from the United States late Friday night to join the Davis Cup squad.
The middle of the three tennis playing sibblings based in the US, Panhara, played a key role in Cambodia’s sensational Davis Cup debut in Doha last year. Panhara, like Bun Kenny, won all his five singles rubbers to ensure a promotional ticket for Cambodia in its first Davis Cup season.
Phalkun, the eldest of the trio, incidentally replaces his youngest brother Vetu, who figured in a couple of notable doubles wins at Doha.
“Vetu is tied up with his teaching commitments so he couldn’t make it. But we have Phalkun, who was here for the three back-to-back Cambodian Futures during November 2012. We are just fine with the present squad,” Cambodia’s non-playing captain Tep Rithivit told the Post.
“Both Phalkun and Panhara have been training very hard in the US. Though they may be short of competitive tennis, they have been playing regular week end practice matches and now they will be part of an extensive three-week camp under Braen Aneiros before we fly out at the end of the month,” added Tep Rithivit, who is also the TFC secretary-general.