Four years after Cambodia’s senior national team made a spectacular winning debut in the Asia-Oceania Group IV Davis Cup at Doha, the Kingdom’s long-cherished aim to join the Junior Davis Cup and Junior Fed Cup will be fulfilled in March.
For the first time in its well-chronicled history dating back at least eight decades, Tennis Cambodia will be fielding boys and girls teams in the Asia-Oceania pre-qualifying event of the prestigious international junior competition, which the Sri Lankan capital Colombo will be hosting from March 11 to 17.
The International Tennis Federation launched the Junior Davis Cup and Junior Fed Cup in 1985 as the 16-and-under World Youth Cup, before being rebranded in 2002. BNP Paribas has been the title sponsor of the Junior Davis Cup since 2002, before going on to sponsor the Junior Fed Cup in 2005. Nations enter regional qualifying events, with the winners progressing to the finals where they compete to be crowned champions.
A fight for two final spots
Cambodia’s three-member boys team comprising Tep Timothy, Chheang Vannasith, both 15, and Kleng Punlok, 14, will compete with 19 other countries from the region in search of two places for the final, which will involve 16 teams and be held in New Delhi in the first week of April. Tennis Cambodia’s head of junior development and Davis Cupper Phalkun Mam will join the trio as their coach cum nonplaying captain.
Apart from Cambodia, the other countries taking part are Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brunei, Iran, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Yemen.
While Chheang Vannasith, who comes from a tennis family background, will be following in the footsteps of his older brother Chheang Vannasak, who is heading to the United States to pursue college tennis, Tep Timothy represents the third generation of a family credited with tennis excellence.
His late grandfather Tep Khunnah is regarded as the father of Cambodian tennis, while his father Tep Rithivit, who is the secretary-general of Tennis Cambodia, has also been the country’s non-playing captain in all Davis Cup ties since 2012.
Timothy could also be heading for a record as the first Junior Davis Cup player whose father has led the country at the senior level.
The youngest member of the team is Punlok, whose parents are both schoolteachers. He has had a taste of international competition before having played in the ITF/ATF 14 & Under Development championships in Vietnam, but this will be a step up to a higher age bracket.
Cambodia’s Junior Fed Cup debut follows the first-time participation of the national women’s team at the 2015 SEA Games in Singapore.
Two of the country’s most successful youngsters, Hour Sreypov and Ho Sreynoch, both made favourable impressions in the Singapore Future Stars in October and are all the wiser for that experience. One of the country’s leading coaches, Long Chumnith, has been named as captain and coach.
The 14 countries taking part in the girls event are Cambodia, Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Maldives, Nepal, the Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Vietnam.
While 15-year-old Hour Sreypov is from Holybaby Orphanage in Kandal province’s Boeung Khyang, Ho Sreynoch, 14, is from Kandal’s Sunrise Children’s Village, an orphanage where a tennis program was introduced four years ago.
“We are proud to send these two young girls, both from orphanages and both fruits of our grassroots initiatives and efforts to provide a pathway for the players in our programs,’’ Tennis Cambodia secretary-general Rithivit said.
“Our entry to the Junior Davis Cup is a significant milestone. It is the beginning of a process to get a healthy progression of good players who can keep expanding our national base,’’ Rithivit added.
Meanwhile, Minister for Industry and Handicrafts and president of Tennis Cambodia Cham Prasidh has said that every Cambodian should be proud that the country’s junior teams are taking part in such a high-profile international competition.
“It clearly demonstrates that the hard work that has gone into promoting junior programs is beginning to bear fruit. We are heading in the right direction,” Prasidh told the Post.
Like the senior team, the junior squads will also go through what has now become popularly known as the “Kep Therapy” before major international events.
The three boys and girls heading to Sri Lanka will assemble in the coastal town this weekend for a training camp at the Villa Romonea tennis facility, where they will undergo intense on-court drilling as well as pushups on the shoreline and short sprints along the sandy beaches.