When one of America’s biggest names in women’s professional tennis Lindsay Davenport retired in 2010 after winning 55 WTA tournaments including three grand slams, Cambodia’s Chhieu Apsara was barely 6 and a world away from the game she would eventually come in contact with nearly three years later.
The shy and unassuming Apsara, who returned to Phnom Penh yesterday, had the thrill of her young life on the sidelines of the year-ending multimillion-dollar WTA Finals in Singapore when she met the former world No1 at a charities event.
Apsara was the Kingdom’s only U14 representative among 48 Future Stars from 21 countries joining over 100 young players on court in Singapore for the inaugural WTA Charities Community Day.
The occasion featured WTA Finals legend ambassador Davenport and WTA Finals community ambassador Judy Murray, the mother of the current men’s world No3 Andy.
Introduced this year, WTA Charities aims to inculcate in the next generation the importance of living a healthy and productive life, while showing them the value of teamwork, discipline, and determination, values that are closely associated with the top eight players in the WTA Finals.
Before going through those unforgettable moments and making a legion of friends from across the globe, Apsara attended a coaching clinic run by former player and Australian Fed Cup captain Alicia Molik, who helped the Cambodian junior improve her grip.
As Apsara confided on her return to Phnom Penh, the biggest excitement for her and many of her peers was the opening ceremony of the WTA Finals and a court-side seat to watch the opening match between another American legend, Venus Williams, and Czech Karolina Pliskova.
Travelling alongside Tennis Cambodia coach Chhay Manakseka, Apsara got a good taste of what it takes to be a top junior and to be in the elite group all in the matter of a week.
‘Life changing experience’
While off-court engagements brought her a wealth of knowledge and an understanding of the way tennis futures are shaped and nurtured, Apsara also managed to get a decent picture of how hard and competitive tennis is on the court.
In the first of her own matches, Apsara failed to win a game but buried those disappointments in a Singapore Sightseeing Adventure – a boat tour in the Bay of Singapore provided free by the organisers for all the players and coaches.
Players from Malaysia and Pacific Oceania proved too good for Apsara on Day 2, yet she kept her spirits high and pulled out a game each in the two sets against her rival from the Philippines the next day.
She went down to her Singapore opponent by the same scoreline but, as coach Chhay confirmed, there clearly was learning and improvement from match to match.
Phalkun Mam, Tennis Cambodia’s head of development said: “The on-court results do not really matter. What is important for both the federation and the player is the opportunity for one of our juniors to mix with players of her own age, watch some of the best players train and compete, and be with the legends. I think it is a life changing experience for anyone.
“We have to thank the organisers, in particular senior events coordinator Mark Clemente who took care of all the players and coaches during the Future Stars event in what was another successful year in Singapore.’’
Apsara is the third player from Cambodia to participate in the Future Stars program. Two years. ago, Hour Srey Pov (U16) and Ho Sreynoch (U14) represented the country.