Leander Paes talks with local tennis players including Cambodian No 1 Bun Kenny (right) during an interaction session at the National Training Centre yesterday.
65-year-old Cambodian tennis playing veteran Yi Sarun hits a return to Leander Paes during a knock up at the National Training Centre yesterday morning.
Photo by: Sreng Meng Srun
Indian tennis star Leander Paes spent the best part of two hours in an interaction session with the Kingdom’s budding young talent at the National Training Centre yesterday morning. However, the highpoint of his breezy visit as the Tennis Federation of Cambodia’s newly designated Goodwill Ambassador was an unforgettable 15 minute rally with one of the most recognisable faces in the local tennis community, 65-year old Yi Sarun.
The world’s best known doubles and mixed doubles specialist flew in to Phnom Penh late on Wednesday evening from Siem Reap for an overnight stay and a quick trip to the training centre the following morning, before flying back yesterday afternoon to India to attend the Commonwealth Games.
In a strange way, Leander’s early exit in this week’s Bangkok Open doubles with his partner Mahesh Bhupathi turned out to be TFC’s gain, as it afforded the Indian Davis Cupper a chance to take stock of Cambodian tennis and cast his expert eye on players such as Bun Kenny and Orn Sambath, ranked first and second respectively in the Kingdom, and a host of other juniors.
A two-member television crew working on a feature on the TFC for CNN’s monthly tennis magazine programme Open Court were present when Paes arrived at the training centre yesterday, and their camera captured every activity involving him on the court including a court side chat with golden oldie Yi Sarun.
“He has beautiful strokes,” said Paes as he enjoyed a knock up with the veteran who was at his peak when the Indian maestro was not even born. Compliments continued to flow as the local player kept pegging away and when it was over, Paes noted that for a man of his age, Yi Sarun had a remarkable positional sense.
Coming together for a close up camera shot, Paes sat down with Yi Sarun for an emotional conversation that touched the Cambodian’s past travails and tribulations in tennis. Paes then offered Yi Sarun surprise gifts of the shoes he wore during this year’s US Open, two new pairs of arm bands from his bag as well as the racket with which he had won this year’s Wimbledon mixed doubles with Cara Black. Clearly moved nearly to tears, Yi Sarun responded with a friendly hug and a traditional clasping of hands in thanks.
After a quick practice with Bun Kenny, Pes told the rising local star: “You have good foot work, you have speed, you have good strokes. What you need is speed endurance and a fire in the belly.
“Find your way - any way - to get your first ATP Point. Tennis is an education. You can learn from anyone, any day, any time. Take Nadal for example. He is world No 1 and he is still looking for ways to close out points on his forehand quicker. That is a lesson for you.”
The youngsters were all ears when the Indian master touched on the finer aspects of the game, bringing in some of his own playing experiences. As a parting shot, he remarked: “We have to take tennis to the people and not the other way round.”