Cambodia’s hard earned promotion to Group III last year in Bahrain was lost at the My Dinh Sports Complex indoor arena in Hanoi on Saturday night after the Kingdom went down 0-3 to Saudi Arabia in the relegation playoff to drop down to the lowest tier of competition in the next Davis Cup Asia/Oceania zone cycle.
At the start, Cambodia’s survival instincts kicked in and 19-year-old Delton Sophana Kim, who returned to the squad after a gap of three years, squeezed out the first set on the one break point out of the five he got against Saud Alhaqbani in the opening rubber.
But that was as far as Sophana Kim was allowed to go as his rival took control of the court at the start of the second set and never slackened his grip to give Saudi Arabia a 1-0 advantage after completing a 4-6, 6-1, 6-2 win stretching out to little more than two hours;
With pressure mounting on Long Samneang to keep the hope of a comeback alive in the second singles match, the Cambodian right-hander, who has been part of Davis Cup stints since 2012, could hardly contain a rampaging Ammar Alhaqbani, who raced to a 6-1, 6-2 win to put the tie beyond Cambodia’s reach.
“To be honest I have mixed feelings right now. Obviously I am terribly disappointed going down to Group IV. But at the same time, I feel it is a good time for Tennis Cambodia to give an opportunity for young and inexperienced players to be the leaders of the national team,’’ head coach Braen Aneiros told The Post.
“For our upcoming players Group III is a bit too steep. They need time to work on their game and get to a level where we can go back to Group III and stay there,” the national coach asserted
Even as a cloud of uncertainty hangs over the future of Bun Kenny, who was left out of matches against Vietnam, Pacific Oceania and Saudi Arabia as a stern message for on-court discipline and attitude after a bust-up in the match against Malaysia, there are indications of a possible patch-up and a different role for the 28-year-old right-hander who has played a record 27 Davis Cup matches for the country.
Non-playing captain Tep Rithivit, who has always been a stickler for player discipline, struck a philosophical note in what he saw as a normal situation when a team is in a rebuilding process.
“Every team, even the very best, goes through this stage at one phase or another. Now we have arrived at this point. Delton Kim, Tep Timothy, Long Sarinreach are our future hopes and they will be flanked by experienced players like Long Samneang and Our Sarith next year,” said Rithivit, who is also the secretary-general of Tennis Cambodia.
“Group IV will be a good stage to start our new team and we hope our partners and sponsors stand by us as the rebuilding takes one or two years since tennis can only work with mid- to long-term commitments,’’ he added.
Cambodia’s only win
The Kingdom recorded its only win during the group phase when they overpowered Pacific Oceania 2-1 on Thursday night in the lead-up to the playoffs.
Having been blanked out by both Malaysia and Vietnam in the first two ties, Cambodia were looking for a positive swing and Sophana Kim and Samneang delivered singles victories to lighten the mood in the camp.
In the opening singles, Sophana Kim bounced back from a set down to beat Kelly Heve 5-7, 6-2, 6-4, while Samneang got past Mathew Stubbings 6-2, 6-0.
Vietnam, Kuwait promoted
Vietnam from Group A and Kuwait from Group B grabbed the two promotion tickets to Group II next year after completing their missions unbeaten.
In the promotional playoffs, Vietnam ousted Qatar 3-0, while Kuwait beat Malaysia 2-1.
Jordan joined Cambodia on the way down to Group IV after suffering a 1-2 loss against Pacific Oceania in the second relegation playoff.