Indian Davis Cup star Leander Paes, best known for his six Grand Slam doubles titles and as many final appearances, has pledged all of his energy and expertise in promoting the Kingdom’s tennis cause as the Tennis Federation of Cambodia’s first goodwill ambassador.
At a colourful and well-attended function held at the Terrace of the Elephants in Siem Reap’s Angkor temple complex yesterday morning, Leander Paes declared: “I am humbled and honoured to be Cambodia’s goodwill ambassador.
“As a practicing Buddhist, to be here in Angkor Wat is an elevating experience. There is so much in common between the Indian and Cambodian cultures and it is a privilege to be working in this role.”
The 37-year-old, who is only the second man after Australian Rod Laver to win Wimbledon titles in three different decades, said he was well aware of the rebirth of tennis from its ashes in the Kingdom.
“I can see the dreams in [the Cambodians’] eyes and I will do everything I possibly can to help them realise those dreams. I want to take tennis to the people of Cambodia just the way the TFC wants. Internationally, my aim will be to pin Cambodia firmly on the World map.”
TFC main sponsors Ezecom had flown in a special mini-tennis court that was set up against the backdrop of the stone-carved terraces for eight kids from the school’s mini-tennis programme to share playing time with Paes, who shared a few quick tips to keep the kids bubbling with excitement.
“There is no greater joy for a kid than knocking a few against a top player like Leander,” said TFC Secretary General Tep Rithivit, adding that a “player of Leander Paes’ calibre brings a whole new dimension to the Kingdom’s tennis”.
Vice Governor of Siem Reap, Mao Vuthy, and Ezecom CEO Paul Blanche-Horgan were among the dignitaries attending the function.
Later at a news conference, Paes announced the launch of Grassroots Tennis Opportunity Foundation for which he is a co-founder along with the President of the TFC and Senior Minister of Commerce Cham Prasidh. The two other founding members of the foundation to be unveiled in 2012 are the TFC Secretary General Tep Rithivit and Treasurer Christophe Forsinetti.
Accepting his commendation certificate as the Kindom’s representative, Paes said the foundation’s main thrust would be to take tennis to the kids, especially underprivileged ones with an education intensive approach. During the second phase, the foundation would be creating micro tennis centres all around the country.