It is not the kind of tennis that Yi Sarun enjoyed playing for fun or leisure. His prime had been cruelly cut short by war and its tragic consequences, but he had once been a tough rival and feared contender. For years, his tennis gear remained in storage.
His life was in ruins, but miraculously, his tennis was still in condition. Y i Sarun is a legendary senior member of Cambodian tennis. He was a wonderful survivor who had survived the lowest points of life while still finding meaning in tennis on either side of genocide, civil war, and a complete economic collapse.
Millions of Cambodians were compelled by the Khmer Rouge to leave the city and work in rural labor camps. People were tortured or put to death if they were thought to be educated or middle class, and money and private property were abolished. Tennis was a game that was only played by the elite, thus those who played it had little chance.
Yi managed to stay alive by posing as a peasant. Other tennis players weren’t that fortunate. He burned his ID card and kept his awards and press releases hidden. It benefited him that he had dark skin. The Khmer Rouge were searching for those who wore spectacles, an indication that you were educated, and for those with lighter skin tones, a clue that you hadn’t been working in a rice field.
After the Khmer Rouge were overthrown by Vietnamese forces in 1979, eventually life returned to some sort of normalcy. Tennis could not be played in Cambodia for a few years because all of the equipment had been destroyed.
However, racquets, balls, and nets were given to the previous players and clubs thanks to expatriates and diplomats. The Soviet Union then sponsored sporting goodwill tours that brought athletes from all over the world together to compete.
Tennis was back.
Tennis Cambodia honored Yi Sarun at the Olympic Stadium courts in 2018. Yi Sarun was one of just three survivors of the Khmer Rouge regime’s murder of more than 40 tennis players.