Sportstar Archives: Paradorn Srichaphan, an Asian superstar

By the time, the 2003 Tata Open came, the curriculum vitae of Srichaphan made one sit up and take notice. With two ATP titles, and having beaten the likes of Andre Agassi and Lleyton Hewitt, the Thai sensation emerged as the toast of the whole world.

Paradorn Srichaphan of Thailand achnowledges cheers from the crowd after winning of the men's quarterfinal match against top seeded Lleyton Hewitt of Australia at the Japan Open tennis tournament in Tokyo in 2002.   -  AFP

FROM being a journeyman in 2001 to the position of a top-ranked Asian player in the world (14 in the ATP list), it has been a fairytale in the past 12 months for the 23-year-old Paradorn Srichaphan of Thailand. Entering the Tata Open through the back door as an alternate in 2002, Srichaphan exceeded expectations, reaching the final before losing to the top-seed Guillermo Canas of Argentina.

Displaying excellent on-court demeanour and the now familiar Namaste gesture, he has captured the hearts and minds of both young and old alike.

As it appeared in the print edition

By the time, the 2003 Tata Open came, the curriculum vitae of Srichaphan made one sit up and take notice. With two ATP titles, and having beaten the likes of Andre Agassi and Lleyton Hewitt, the Thai sensation emerged as the toast of the whole world.

It has been an amazing rise for the Thai. All the successes have been partly due to the efforts of his 59-year-old father cum coach, Chanachai Srichaphan. Not losing a set throughout to win the 2003 Tata Open in Chennai, Srichaphan showed that here is a player, who has the talent and the physical fitness to take on the best in the world.

Surprisingly, all the adulation and encomiums have not gone to his head so far. Be it talking to the media or dealing with his fans, the Thai has shown the maturity and humility that make a top player and a good human being. His motto: “Even when you are successful, don’t forget yourself. Think that it has just started. Every time you do well, you have to think that this is just the beginning.”

The first Asian player after Vijay Amritraj to enter the top 20, and the first Asian to win an ATP title after Leander Paes, Srichaphan took time off to speak to The Sportstar during the Tata Open.

Excerpts from the interview:

When you look back, the year 2002 has been a very successful one for you. What have been the reasons for the success?

I think I have been working very hard on my physical fitness. As I have been on the tour for a couple of years, I am trying to learn from my opponents, how they are playing and what their weaknesses are. I keep analysing my opponents’ game and attack in a way that is not to their liking. It is really difficult to believe all this has happened — that I have come this far, reaching the top 20 in four years.

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What is the role of your father Chanachai Srichaphan?

He is my first coach. He is doing a good job and the main thing is that I believe we are doing well. The Asian culture is such that the youngsters always respect their elders. He has been a great coach. He is doing two jobs at the same time — coach and dad.

Your feelings after beating Agassi in Wimbledon and World No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt in the Japan Open.

One of the main reasons for my good performance has been the fact that I have been playing so many matches. Playing every week against good players also helped me. I know I can play well against them. I just go and try to have fun. Defeating Agassi was a great moment, especially on Centre Court. I did not expect to win, but I just looked forward to play and did not feel nervous. I slept well and everything was normal. I have played Hewitt on a few occasions. All the three matches I lost to him before the Japan Open were close. And in the Japan Open, I picked up the threads, knowing pretty well that I have lost to him three times, and devised ways to defeat him.

You are a staunch Buddhist. How far do you think prayers help sportsmen in their careers?

It helps a lot. It is all about the personality. Each one is different. On court I look aggressive but I am calm. That is the key that makes me play well. I can easily control myself and concentrate better.

What do you have to say about the opportunities and the challenges facing Asian players?

If they are good enough, they have to break through some time. They should not be content playing in Asia. They have to play the Futures and Challengers in the United States to face stronger competition and to get better. I would say that the problem lies with the style of play. I could volley, and stay at the back of the court the whole day. The Indian players need that if they have to succeed. I saw a lot of Indians, they are hitting the ball well, but they keep making easy mistakes. It has happened to me before. You have to improve on that. Everything has to come into place at the same time. Physically, you have to be strong. If you are strong, you can stay all day on court. Also, sponsorship is really important to support a player, because you use a lot of money travelling, especially in the beginning. And at the same time, the player has to do well to prove that he deserves the money spent on him. And then the sponsor is going to put in everything for him.

Paradorn Srichaphan of Thailand became the poster boy for Asian Tennis.   -  V. Ganesan

 

Is tennis in Thailand picking up after your success?

Everything about tennis has changed; more parents are bringing their kids to the courts. I cannot believe it — all the courts are fully booked (whole day, whole week). Tennis racquets and balls are selling well. It is getting better especially in Thailand. I hope it gets better in the whole of Asia too.

Your view on the Chennai crowd which rooted for you.

It is great to have a lot of people supporting you during play. I am an Asian and playing in India, so it is normal that I will have full support. I hope there are some more Asian players coming in.

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What is your daily routine?

I practise, take enough rest, and sleep well. Sleeping is very important. If you do not get enough sleep, you will not have the energy to move your body. At least eight hours of sleep is a must. It is all about doing normal things well. Concentrate during practice, and try to feel that you are in a match.

Who is your role model?

I would say Michael Chang because he is an Asian. I look up to him. He is not a tall guy, but could run and put every ball into court. He has got strong legs. He could stay in a match for a long, long time. If you have more power, and if you have good fitness, you can do it. If Chang could do it, somebody is going to do it likewise.

How was the feeling after winning your maiden ATP title at Long Island?

If you have the first one, there is always the second one. It is going to keep coming, hopefully. But the first one is always difficult. The week before the Long Island (August 2002) event I played in the final at Washington. I tried to win my first title there but James Blake of the U.S. played well and I lost to him in three sets. Next, I played in Long Island where I didn’t expect to win against Juan Ignacio Chela of Argentina in the final. I tried hard to win and it just happened. Then I played in Stockholm, reached the final and felt like I was in the first round. I have been playing the final so many times. In a way I’ve got used to it. The titles taught me that it is good to have some easy matches early in the tournament. It feels great that I am making a name in tennis, especially for Asian tennis, winning two titles (three including the Tata Open).

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What is in store for you in 2003?

It looks great from now. I don’t have anything to defend right now. If I could do well, it could be another great year.

Any Grand Slams for which you have a special feeling?

To pick one to do well, I’ll say Wimbledon. It is the oldest of the Grand Slams. There is a lot of history there. If I can win Wimbledon… At the moment, I know it is really difficult. I am training more towards hardcourts such as the U.S. Open.

“Even when you are successful, don’t forget yourself. Think that it has just started. Every time you do well, you have to think that this is just the beginning,” is Paradorn Srichaphan’s motto.

(The interview first appeared in the Sportstar issue dated January 25, 2003.)

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