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Thais salute top-10 hero

Bangkok: Thailand Tuesday hailed its national sports hero Paradorn Srichaphan as he became the first Asian ever to break into the top 10 of the world tennis rankings.

The charismatic 23-year-old Asian champion confirmed his status as the continent’s best-ever player when he was ranked 10th in the latest ATP rankings, besting the exploits of India’s Vijay Amritraj who earned a 16th ranking back in 1980.

He moved up one spot from 11th and now has 1,885 points — 66 points behind the Czech Republic’s Jiri Novak.

“It is great news for our sport, and it is an honour because he is the first Asian to be in the top 10,” Suwat Liptapanlop, chairman of the Lawn Tennis Association of Thailand said.

“He has given a reputation for this country,” Suwat said.

Paradorn, who just over a year ago was ranked 126th, achieved the historic feat despite being ousted in the second round of the last week’s Monte Carlo Masters series, and slipping to 13th in the ATP champions race, which considers events played only this year.

He was named Thailand’s 2002 Person of the Year on the back of the his meteoric rise to stardom, which took off with his straight-set defeat of one of his childhood heroes, Andre Agassi, at Wimbledon.

He went on to claim his first ATP title, in August on Long Island, another in Stockholm and a third in Chennai at the turn of the year, defeating another one-time idol Michael Chang and world number one Lleyton Hewitt in the process.

Breaking into the sport’s elite came sooner than expected for Paradorn, who said just last week that he was aiming to crack the top 10 by Wimbledon this June.

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