History repeated itself in a delightful way for Cambodia as the national tennis team regained Asia/Oceania Group III status for the 2018 cycle after beating Oman 2-0 in the promotion playoff to end the Group IV campaign with a spectacular all-win record in Isa, Bahrain, on Saturday.
Hit by injuries to key players and playing on an unfamiliar surface like red clay in the Iranian capital Tehran last year, Cambodia had slipped out of Group III, but the squad managed to recreate the stunning success of Doha in 2012 to return to where they belong.
It was on their Davis Cup debut in Qatar that Cambodia caught the attention of the world by winning all their matches to achieve the rare distinction of a debutant nation earning promotion.
After Friday’s 2-1 triumph over Saudi Arabia in the fourth and final round robin fixture, Cambodia entered the playoff for one of four places as the only unbeaten side, taking on Pool B runners-up Oman, while the second placed Saudis challenged Singapore.
As expected, non-playing captain Tep Rithivit nominated Long Samneang for the first singles rubber, Bun Kenny for the middle pin and, if the need arose, for the doubles with Phalkun Mam.
It wasn’t the best of starts for Cambodia as a somewhat edgy Long Samneang was weighed down by unforced errors in a first set he lost to Mohammed Al Nabhani of Oman.
But early in the second set, Samneang picked up the pieces well and, armed with an early break, went on to level the set scores. The third set was a seesaw battle with the players breaking each other until Samneang grabbed control with a decisive break in the eighth game to close out the rubber at 3-6, 2-6, 6-4.
With the scent of victory in the air, Kenny lost no time in driving Abdullah Al Barami out of his rhythm and in less than 30 minutes had the set in the bag for the loss of just one game.
Cambodia’s most successful Davis Cupper then went on to demolish his rival in the second though he conceded a game more in the bargain to polish off the tie at 6-1, 6-2 to bring optimism back to the country’s tennis scene.
Rithivit put the triumph down to the change of dynanics in the team and to the solid support the squad had received from main sponsors GLF.
“The fact that GLF has stood by us even after we were demoted to Group IV last year shows the level of their involvement. I am happy we were able to justify that immense faith.
“Unbelievable team work is what led us to where we are now and we will zealously safe-guard this gain,” said Rithivit, who is also the secretary-general of Tennis Cambodia.
While Cambodia were shutting down Oman, Saudi Arabia were battling hard in the other promotion playoff and eventually got the measure of Singapore 2-1.
Both Cambodia and Saudi Arabia will now figure in Group III competition next year.