| Paradorn Srichaphan celebrates his victory over South Korea’s Lee Hyung-taik in the final in Busan on Saturday. (AP/PTI)
Busan, Oct. 12: Paradorn Srichaphan was in the midst of a purple patch on the ATP circuit. A run to the title round in Washington was followed by his maiden crown at Long Island where he toppled Marat Safin.
Then came last week’s high at the Japan Open where he had the measure of world No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt.
The sequence got interrupted as the country needed his services at the Asian Games. He politely refused to play the team championship in Busan — otherwise he couldn’t have played the Japan Open — but gave his green signal to the individual events.
Thailand were banking on a gold medal from their tennis star and he delivered. As the 7-6, 6-4 scoreline suggests, it wasn’t one-way traffic in Saturday’s men’s singles final against local darling Lee Hyung-taik.
“Lee is a tough player... it wasn’t easy to play him in conditions which suited him more,” said Srichaphan, who, for the first time this week, had the crowd rooting for his rival.
In all his previous matches, fans lined up like mad to have a glimpse of Asia’s newest tennis star. To his credit, Srichaphan never tired of signing autographs.
“It feels good to be recognised and admired but there is a negative aspect also,” said Srichaphan. “I have no privacy when I go home once in a blue moon.”
Coming from a tough tournament, how did he motivate himself in the first couple of rounds where he faced players who were there to make up the numbers'
“It wasn’t easy but I kept telling myself that things would get tougher as the week progressed,” the 23-year-old revealed.
As the clear favourite, was there pressure to win the gold' “I never thought of gold, I was playing to win the title,” confessed Srichaphan.
The friendly Thai, who would easily pass off as your friendly neighbour, admitted it isn’t easy to fit in tournaments like the Asian Games. “I am in good form and will have to play as many ATP meets as possible.
The Asian Games won’t give me ranking points. Still I decided to come because the federation wanted me to play and win for the country.”
Having climbed to No. 29 in the world, Srichaphan’s next target is cracking the top 20. “If I can play like this in the last three weeks of the season, I should be in the top 20 end of the year.”
And what are the goals next year, a Grand Slam' “Winning a Grand Slam is any tennis player’s dream. But first I have to make sure that I stay in the top 20.
“I will have a whole lot of points to defend next year. That will be my big test. If I fail, it will be back to square one and another uphill climb,” says Srichaphan.
Having taken the first steps towards superstardom, Srichaphan seems to have his feet firmly planted on the ground. Even if he fails to translate the unmistakable talent to results, it wouldn’t be for a faulty attitude.