Australia’s renowned wheelchair tennis coach Greg Crump and compatriot Anthony Bonaccurso, player ambassador for the ITF wheelchair program, are of the firm opinion that creating a pathway for coaches and players to lead them within the next four years towards high visibility events like the Paralympics or the World Team Cup is the key to the promotion of the game in Cambodia.
A 35-year wheelchair tennis coaching veteran, Crump guided the Australian team to a stunning success in the World Team Cup way back in 2002, and part of that greatest triumph for the country was Bonaccurso, who went on to claim a bronze medal in the 2004 Summer Paralympics.
The Australian pair will visit a school for the disabled situated around 15 kilometres from Phnom Penh airport today to raise awareness of wheelchair tennis after holding a highly informative coaches’ clinic in the capital at the start of the week, before dashing off to Battambang’s La Paloma Center for the Disabled for an interactive session with the boys and girls currently spinning their wheels in the joint ITF-Tennis Cambodia program.
It’s the first time a top-class wheelchair player has visited the Kingdom and shared his experiences with the community since the ITF marked out Cambodia a year ago as a project country for the program, which is supported by the Cruyff Foundation and Pakistan Davis cupper Aisan Quershi’s Stop War Start Tennis Foundation.
The 40-year-old Bonaccurso, who has now turned to coaching, is one of the few Australian paralympians to compete both at the Summer and Winter Games, but it is his exploits on the tennis court in a career that saw him rise as high as 16th in the world that brought fame and recognition.
Adventure out of adversity
Both Crump and Bonaccurso expertly guided the Cambodian hopefuls in Battambang through a short training session packed as it was with high value lessons in skills, mobility and mental toughness without ever taking out the fun element from it all.
“I was just like you when I started,” Bonaccurso told an attentive audience, after briefly touching on the horrific accident in a Victoria railway station when he was 17 that left him with serious spinal injuries after he fell from a pole.
“Some of you are good and if you keep working hard on your game, improve your skills and keep motivated, you will be very good. I can clearly see the potential in you guys,” Bonaccurso told the players, who were clearly in awe of his life story of adventure out of adversity.
One particular aspect the Australian paralympian strongly advocated was the benefit of travelling and taking on players from other countries.
In a short summation at the end of the session, he called on the players to train as hard as they could but also to make it a point of enjoying what they were doing.
In an exclusive chat with the Post, Crump spoke about the need to identify at least three coaches and six players, leading to the prospect of all of them working together to create that pathway to competitive tennis.
“In the next two to three years, I feel these players will have to go out and get competitive. Initially, it may be difficult and results disastrous but eventually they will get better.”
The Australian expert also suggested it would be easier for the players to develop their mobility and racket skills if they had access to a full-sized court. In this context, he said players based in Battambang coming to Phnom Penh for training stints now and then would be beneficial at all levels.
“What I see in Cambodia is similar to what I have seen in many countries. Some of the players are good and I do see potential for big improvement. It is not that difficult to organise competition among themselves.
“I feel they need to go out of Cambodia and play with players from other countries. That I think will tell them where they stand,” said Greg Crump, who turned to coaching in the ’80s after a modest stint as a player.
“It is a big step forward having a reputed coach like Greg Crump and a player of the calibre of Anthony Bonaccurso conduct this camp for the coaches and players’’ secretary general Tennis Cambodia Tep Rithivit said.