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Cambodian tennis rises from ashes

sports Updated: Apr 14, 2012 23:39 IST

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What's most remarkable about Cambodia's imminent Davis Cup debut is not that the small nation has finally made it to a top world tennis event. It's that the sport exists in Cambodia at all.

When the country's number one player Bun Kenny steps onto the court in Qatar in the coming week, it will mark the crowning moment of years of effort to revive a sport that was all but wiped out by the brutal Khmer Rouge regime.

Led by "Brother Number One" Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge dismantled modern society and launched a revolution that led to the death of up to two million people from overwork, starvation or execution between 1975 and 1979.

Only three of an estimated 40 players who were in the national team before the regime's "Killing Fields" era are known to have survived.

One of them is Yi Sarun, an energetic 67-year-old who still hits the courts almost every day and who is widely credited for leading efforts to keep the game alive in Cambodia.

In 1975, he buried his trophies and medals and spent much of the next four years toiling in the fields. But the endless labour did not break his spirit, and after the regime was ousted he pushed to wake the game from its slumber in the 1980s.

"I wanted to restart tennis because it's my skill, it's what I know... I love this sport,” he said.