The Cambodian Davis Cup squad returned home on Monday with a bag of mixed emotions over their last week’s Asia Oceania Group III campaign in the Iranian capital of Tehran.
It is not often that the destiny of a team would dramatically alter with one critical point lost in a preliminary tie that would eventually adversely affect the promotional prospects. That was the underlying truth in Cambodia’s Mission to Iran.
The compact Group III format of playing 12 rubbers in four days on one specific site is more like time spent in a compression chamber. Premium is quite high on physical attributes and mental toughness.
Adding to these anxieties for the Cambodian players was the unfamiliar red clay courts at the pre-Iranian Revolution-era Enghelab Sports Complex.
Yet with all the road bumps that confronted the team, national coach Braen Aneiros and non-playing captain Tep Rithvit saw the journey and the ultimate outcome of retaining a Group III spot for next year as satisfying and a good learning experience.
“The destination was exciting, hospitality was excellent, the playing surface was challenging and the competition was as stiff as any the country had ever faced. The outcome could have been better, but in the end it was satisfying,” Tep Rithvit told the Post yesterday.
“In many ways it was far different than last year’s Dubai roller-coaster but in the end I am happy that the positives outweighed some aspects of our campaign that did not work well for us.
“Bun Kenny delivered what was expected of him, [but] Mam Panhara was nowhere near the form he showed in Dubai and Doha. That came as a bit of a disappointment.
“Phalkun spilled his guts out each time he took the court and Long Samneang had very little part to play, but overall the team showed great fighting spirit which is a very encouraging sign.
“Reaching the summit is easier than staying on it. So our objective is clearly defined and that is once we reach the next level we need to keep consolidating the gains,” he added.
“We may have missed promotion to Group II so narrowly. It was only a matter of few points here and there going against us particularly in the doubles rubber against Malaysia that eventually blocked our way up.
“It is imperative that we build a strong second line. Tennis Cambodia will cast its net globally to get young and talented players who can represent the country in the future.”
National coach Braen Aneiros, himself a former Panamanian Davis Cupper for nearly four years, said the key to Cambodia’s preparation this year was the intense physical training the players went through.
“The second most vital component was our decision to spend a week practising on clay in Bangkok. And the third crucial factor was the team reaching Tehran five days before the competition and getting a good feel of the show courts” he said.
“The ball tended to bounce much higher on the red clay in Tehran than the courts we had spent time on in Bangkok. So those five days of practice really helped our players.”
Were the team disappointed with their results?
“Yes to an extent. Disheartened, certainly no,” said coach Aneiros.
“We have a competent team that can hold its own in Group III. We need to sharpen up our doubles.”
Captain Tep Rithivit was the first to be tested on the social etiquette that Iran demanded of its visitors. He was on court shirtless knocking around with one of his players when a female official approached and reminded him: “This is the Islamic Republic of Iran. Please wear your shirt.”
And Mam Phalkun got curious looks from passers-by when he wandered across the street from his hotel in shorts to buy a few “markers” for the team to autograph T-shirts.
But for both coach and captain, the scariest moment of the trip came the day before the competition started. Towards the end of his practice session, Bun Kenny went sliding on the court to reach a drop shot and obviously tripped over part of a thick rubber line marking.
Cambodia’s singles pivot let out such a loud scream that the team feared the worst. “Thank the stars he was fine and we heaved a sigh of relief,” Tep Rithivit said.