In February 2013, ATPCA coach member, Bill Ridley set off on a journey to Cambodia to meet with the Secretary General of the Cambodian tennis federation, Tep Rithivit. Bill took with him some ATPCA shirts and caps to give to the kids from the local orphanage and has come home with a renewed perspective on tennis, and a renewed appreciation for life. Bill has written this article to share his experience with ATPCA members, and to encourage any young coaches aspiring to develop their trade to consider working over in Cambodia.
From Killing Fields To Tennis Courts
The Australian Open was played on the grass courts of Kooyong in December 1974, and finished in January 1975. John Newcombe defeated Jimmy Connors in the men’s singles final, and Evonne Goolagong Cawley defeated Martina Navratilova in the women’s final. John Alexander and Phil Dent won the men’s doubles final, and Evonne teamed-up with Peggy Michel (US) to win the women’s doubles final.
On April 17, 1975, not long after the Australian open, Pol Pot and his deranged henchmen captured the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh. The Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot’s leadership, tortured, and then proceeded to murder about 2 million of their own people. This was an extreme form of ultra-communist social engineering – where money was abolished, private property, religious practice, and Western medicine prohibited. Before the IndoChina war, Cambodia was a tennis power in the region. Try to imagine a world where you will be exterminated for being a businessman, tennis player, or for having an education. “Better to kill an innocent person, than to leave an enemy alive” (a popular Khmer Rouge slogan).
I became interested in Cambodian tennis when I read an article about Cambodia winning the group IV Asia/Oceania, Davis Cup play off against Turkmenistan last year in Doha, Qatar. Cambodia was promoted to group III. They won all of their round robin matches, winning 3-0 in the play off to gain promotion. I’m old enough to remember the Khmer Rouge, and the Indochina war, and because of my involvement as a coach in the great game of tennis, I decided to do some research into the re-emergence of Cambodian tennis … I found the story fascinating.
Discovering tennis players like Yi Sarun, who fortunately survived by hiding his tennis racquets, trophies, and photos. To survive, Yi Sarun had to lie about being a sportsmen, (37 of his tennis playing mates disappeared). Yi Sarun represented his country on many occasions. At 65, Yi Sarun is coaching and working with the national team. The Khmer Rouge used the manicured lawns of Le Cercle Sportif (a private country club) to murder political prisoners. Le Cercle Sportif is where Tep Kunnah ‘Mr Tennis’ entertained prince Norodom Sihanouk with his brilliant game. I also discovered the Killing Fields To Tennis Courts programme.
I decided to send an e-mail to the secretary general of the Tennis Federation of Cambodia (TFC) Mr Tep Rithivit: asking if I could be of any assistance, and that I planned to visit Cambodia in February 2013. He responded immediately, and said that he was looking forward to meeting me, and to contact him when I arrived in Phnom Penh. He kept his word, and we met first in Kep, and then for lunch in Phnom Penh. He introduced me to the TFC’s Technical Director of Coaching Mr Braen Aneiros. They were kind enough to prepare a presentation for me, and later on in the day I was chauffeur – driven to the National Training Centre to watch Braen train some of the Davis Cup Squad.
My original plan was to do some coaching with the TFC’s tennis programme, but my wife and I arrived (by chance) on day one of King Father Norodom Sihanouk’s funeral, and many parts of Phnom Penh were barricaded off for over 7 days – with over a million people paying their respects to the late King Father. And if you are aware of the normal traffic situation in Phnom Penh – imagine what it was like when the police blocked off some of the roads. Even greater chaos! It was a pity, because I could only allocate 8 days for tennis in Cambodia.
Cambodia doesn’t have a middle class like we do in Australia, and a large proportion of the population is under the age of 20. The TFC to their credit are running tennis programmes into the many orphanages throughout the country. Tennis players from the orphanages are already producing some good results nationally. This is the future of Cambodia, and Cambodian tennis. The National Training Centre in Phnom Penh is a fantastic place to play, and train; now there is also a training centre in Kep. But Cambodia needs to build more tennis courts, and the TFC is addressing this at the moment (funding is a never ending problem). They also need qualified coaches to help out. I hope to be back there as soon as I can.
I don’t believe that I’ve met too many men with the intestinal fortitude, drive, vision, and energy of Tep Rithivit. He is Cambodia’s non playing Davis Cup captain, and federation secretary general, investment consultant, entrepreneur, chairman of several companies involved in healthcare, tourism, real estate, and waste management, and let’s not forget, husband and father. And his father: Tep Kunnah the great Cambodian tennis player, was a significant influence in his life. Every year since 1996 the TFC hold the Tep Kunnah Memorial Cup, which was part of the successful 2012 F1 series held at the National Training Centre. Tep Rithivit returned to Cambodia in the early 1990’s after spending 20 years in France and Canada.
Right now the Cambodian Davis Cup squad is preparing for their Asia/Oceania group III clash in Myanmar in April. But the first bit of success for Cambodian tennis came in the 2007 Southeast Asian Games in Khorat Thailand. Nyssan Tan won the bronze in the individual singles category. It took 30 years, and now Cambodian tennis is back; but it has a long way to go … They’re punching well above their weight. And a lot of credit must go to their technical director, and national coach Braen Aneiros.
ATPCA qualified coaches are well regarded throughout the world – so if you’re travelling to Cambodia, or anywhere else – get in touch with the local tennis federation … they’ll be glad to hear from you.
Cambodia is the perfect environment for young coaches to learn their trade, and they’ll get to work with Braen Aneiros who is one of best in the business.. Of course there wouldn’t be a lot of money in it, but room and board would be covered.
Anyone interested should contact Braen at: firstname.lastname@example.org