Umina Tennis and Sporting Club president Neil Packer (left) receives a Cambodian Davis Cup shirt from TFC Secretary General Tep Rithivit last week. Photograph: Sreng Meng Srun/Phnom Penh Post
A popular Australian tennis academy will be bonding with the Cambodian tennis community in a unique way when six to 10 members of the Sydney-based Umina Tennis and Sporting Club Inc pay a visit to the Kingdom in October.
“Expression of interest in this trip among members has been very encouraging. Six have already confirmed and I am confident a few more will make up their minds soon to join this cultural exchange tour,” Umina club president Neil Packer, who was in Cambodia recently on vacation, told the Post.
“We have gone on similar trips to Japan and China and we are excited to include Cambodia to this Umina tradition,” added the level two Tennis Australia coach.
The veteran, whose life revolves round the game took interest in Cambodian tennis while on a holiday nearly two years ago. The first thing he did then was an internet search for ‘tennis Cambodia’, reaching the Tennis Federation of Cambodia website and noting down its address before legging it up to TFC Secretary General Tep Rithivit’s office.
The rest is now history. There have been frequent contacts between the two and on his latest visit to the Kingdom a couple of weeks ago, Packer put forward a proposal to the TFC on this tennis exchange idea of his.
In fact it is a lot more than a bunch of enthusiastic club level players from Australia visiting Cambodia. They may not bring the expertise or the excellence of present day professionals but for these Umina members, tennis is a strong medium to know the community better.
“It is not high level nor is it grassroots. It is mid-level and pure and simple community tennis. That is what exactly we need to get our own club level players involved,” Tep Rithivit told the Post.
“It just fits very well into our own vision of tennis for all. We do lot of programmes for juniors, we take care of our national team, its time regular club players in Phnom Penh and other towns and cities get a chance to play with their own peers from a tennis rich country like Australia.”
The name Packer carries quite a punch in Australia with media magnate Kerry Packer revolutionising the short version of cricket with the introduction of one day games in coloured clothing back in the 1970s. Neil is no relation to Kerry, the pioneering rebel as they branded him then, but in a way he loves to create a small wave with tennis.
“I have the same name which is good to have. That is just about it,” Neil said with a grin when the Kerry Packer Circus got into the conversation.
The touring party from Australia will be delivering to the TFC a package of souvenirs that Tennis Australia has already sanctioned.
“Tennis Australia is very keen on helping Cambodia’s tennis development. I am in the process of discussing with Tennis Australia a proposal to invite Cambodian Davis Cuppers Bun Kenny and Long Samneang to train at the famous Australian Institute of sports for a couple of weeks,” Packer said.
As the TFC Secretary General presented Packer with a Cambodian Davis Cup shirt as a memento at the end of their fruitful meeting, he remarked: “This is the kind of cheery news that we love to hear and it’s great if these two players make it to Australia for training.”
Tennis wise it may not be much to enthuse about, but the link that has now been firmly established between Umina and TFC could brighten up the scene for mid-level tennis players in the months and years to come.