SEA Games: Teens go from orphanage to SEA Games and beyond

National flags of participating countries are seen after the SEA Games welcome ceremony and flag raising for participating nations held at the Bukit Jalil National Stadium, on Aug 16, 2017.
National flags of participating countries are seen after the SEA Games welcome ceremony and flag raising for participating nations held at the Bukit Jalil National Stadium, on Aug 16, 2017.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

PHNOM PENH • Picking up tennis lessons at the two different orphanages they were growing up in, teenagers Hour Sreypov and Ho Sreynoch had no idea that one day, they would be representing Cambodia in a major event like the SEA Games.

The pair are part of the four-woman tennis team who are set to compete at the SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur.

"It is a life-changing experience for the girls, and a great inspiration for the hundreds in our tennis development programmes," said Tep Rithivit, secretary-general of Tennis Cambodia.

"They are the prime examples of the success we have achieved in creating a pathway for our young players in Cambodia to disprove the widely held notion that tennis is for the rich and famous. It is for the talented and hardworking."

Sreynoch, who at 16 is younger than Sreypov by a year, was taken in by the Sunrise Children's Village in Takhmao, near Phnom Penh, when she was five after her single mother was unable to support her.

She began her tennis career at eight and has not stopped since.

PIONEERS

They are the prime examples of the success we have achieved in creating a pathway for our young players in Cambodia.

'' TEP RITHIVIT, secretary-general of Tennis Cambodia, on Hour Sreypov and Ho Sreynoch

The bubbly teenager strikes a sharp contrast with the calm and reserved Sreypov.

Born in Kampong Cham, Sreypov, much like Sreynoch, grew up for a while under the care of her single mother before being moved to the Holy Baby Orphanage in Kandal province at the age of five.

When Tennis Cambodia's grassroots programme was launched at the orphanage in 2011, Sreypov, 11 years old then, was among the keenest to learn.

Her passion began to pay off a few years later, when she began to assert herself and remained unbeaten in events in her age category for nearly two years.

The two girls were thrilled when they were selected to represent Cambodia at the Future Stars event in Singapore on the sidelines of the season-ending multi-million-dollar WTA Finals two years ago.

Everything happening around them in Singapore was a like dream for the young pair.

Though they were ultimately unsuccessful against the stronger players they ran into, off court they had unforgettable experiences, including a seat to watch an exciting three-set win by Russian star Maria Sharapova over Poland's Agnieszka Radwanska.

Motivated by that unique opportunity to mix with players from various countries and watch some of the best in the world train and compete, Sreypov and Sreynoch have strengthened their own resolve to do well.

French born-Cambodian Andrea Ka, who has taken Cambodian women's tennis to new heights, having reached a career-high ranking of 520 in the world, will lead the team in Malaysia, with American-born Cambodian Som Chhinda from Rochester, New York, completing the line-up.

Andrea and Chhinda created history two years ago as the first set of Cambodian female players to represent the country as a team at the Singapore SEA Games.

The addition of Sreypov and Sreynoch will add another layer of excitement this year.

ASIA NEWS NETWORK/THE PHNOM PENH POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 18, 2017, with the headline 'Teens go from orphanage to the Games and beyond'. Print Edition | Subscribe