With the Kingdom set to host the 32nd Southeast Asian Games (SEA Games) in 2023, Cambodian tennis players weighed in on what they thought their chances of medaling would be.
Experienced 29-year-old player Long Samneang – who won bronze in the team event at the 2011 SEA Games in Indonesia – said he did not have high hopes of winning in the singles matches, but thought the doubles events might offer a path to the podium.
For example, he said, in 2011 Vietnam was ranked lower than Cambodia, but now they are very strong – claiming old at this year’s games. Thailand and Indonesia remained as strong as ever, and even Laos was bringing in French players to improve their own singles’ players.
“My team and I are training hard, but we are under pressure. This is the first time Cambodia has hosted the SEA Games, so we are expected to deliver some good results. At the same time, the standard of play all around the region is improving massively,” said Samneang.
He expressed high hopes for the doubles’ matches, especially the men’s pair event. He believed that if he was paired with elite player Bun Kenny, they had a good chance.
“Bun Kenny has a lot of experience and I believe that he can win a gold medal. If I stand alongside him, I think we would be a better shot at gold than we would as individuals,” he said.
Female player Wang Channalin said she had adopted more or less the same viewpoint.
“I’m not sure yet if I will be selected for the 2023 SEA Games – I am 16 years old and was just chosen for the national team – but I am prepared to seize the opportunity,” she said.
“In the individual competition, I don’t have the highest hopes – I don’t have much experience competing abroad and have never been to a big tournament like the games before,” she said.
“But in the team competition, I have the expectation of a medal. The players on the national team have good technique and a lot of international experience,” she added.
The Tennis Federation of Cambodia is focused on claiming gold for the first time in history. It has ambitions to win more than the Cambodian SEA Games Organising Committee (CAMSOC) has predicted they will claim.
Re-established in 1981, the federation has yet to secure a major victory at the SEA Games. In more than 40 years of trying, they have claimed just five bronze medals.
CAMSOC have predicted that the tennis federation will win at least one gold medal, along with some silver and bronze. However, the national tennis team has ambitions to win more than one gold.
“Of course, CAMSOC predicted a gold medal, but the federation has ambitions to win a second gold – or more, if possible,” said Chea Pov, who has stepped down as deputy secretary-general of the federation to take over as national team coach.
“The organisation has changed its strategy ahead of the games,” he told The Post.
“Previously, we trained our players very hard, but we didn’t travel to many tournaments. After the Covid-19 situation improved, we changed the way we prepared. We train at about 50 per cent of the previous workload, but compete a lot more. Ever since the SEA Games in Vietnam, we have been travelling to tournaments. At the world championship ITF Men’s Future event, we competed three times and won two points,” he added.
In the international series, Cambodia claimed wins in Vietnam in late May and another in Malaysia in July. Pov said the new strategy was paying dividends, and was why he believed CAMSOC’s one gold estimate may be underrating the team.
“This year, we have sent our athletes out to compete as much as possible, and it is clear that it is paying off, because they are looking relaxed and their technique has improved,” he said.
At next year’s games, there are seven scheduled tennis events. Men’s doubles, women’s doubles, mixed doubles, men’s singles, women’s singles, as well as men’s and women’s team events.
“We intend to compete in the doubles events – I think that countries like Vietnam and the Philippines are just too strong in the single events. They bring many foreign players in, and their highest world-ranked players are seeded in the 200s, whereas ours are more like 1,200. By focusing on men’s and women’s doubles, we are giving ourselves a good chance of medaling,” he said.
Pov said the federation’s leadership are huge drivers of the athlete’s success. Sear Rithy, the president, and Tep Rithivit, the secretary general, are working hard to push them to greater heights.
“Our leaders have greater ambitions than even the coaches and the athletes! We are preparing to send key players to short training camps in many countries, and have more events coming up in October. These will combine to give our players the best preparation ahead of next year’s games,” he added.
The federation is also strengthening its national coaching resources, and ran an international coaching course which ended on August 12.
The training was attended by coaches from Myanmar, East Timor, Bangladesh, Fiji and the host country Cambodia, with three coaches – Jonathan Stubbs, Gary Pucell and Amir Borghei – from the Tennis International Federation.
“This is the first time the federation has run this kind of regional training. It wasn’t just important for the 2023 SEA Games, but will mean our coaching staff will be qualified to work abroad themselves,” he added.