| Paradorn Srichaphan at a news conference in Bangkok Wednesday. (Reuters)
Bangkok: Asia’s top tennis player, Paradorn Srichaphan, is looking to the power of Buddhist prayer and a smattering of superstition to propel him into the world’s top 10. The 23-year-old Thai, dubbed the “Buddhist bomber” by some opponents after his rise from 120th in the world at the start of the year to 16th, says devout religious beliefs have given him the mental strength of a champion.
“These days I pray before going to bed every night,” Paradorn said on Tuesday. “It makes me much cooler during the games. Without it, I wouldn’t have come this far.”
Paradorn also believes in luck. He pulls on his favourite red shirt for the closing stages of a match he thinks he will win and insists on always using just one dressing cubicle, which he picks out at the beginning of each tournament.
Paradorn, who finished an extraordinary year with two ATP titles, said he was eyeing a top-10 ranking in 2003 but stopped short of saying he would win a Grand Slam next year.
“I hoped to be in the top 20 rankings this year and I did. So next year I will try to reach a single-digit ranking,” said Paradorn who reached the Paris Masters semi-finals at the weekend. “It is basic psychology that if you tell yourself ‘I can do it’, then you can. There is nothing human beings can’t do.”
After a good start to the season when he reached the semi-finals in Chennai, India, and his first ATP final in Brest, Paradorn’s form dipped during the claycourt season when he suffered three consecutive first-round defeats.
Everything changed at Wimbledon, however, where he produced one of the biggest shocks of the year to crush Andre Agassi in straight sets in the second round.
Paradorn beat Lleyton Hewitt in the quarter finals of the $800,000 Japan Open last month but then lost to the world number one on Saturday in Paris.
Despite his two victories in Long Island and Stockholm this year, Paradorn, whose modesty and good manners have made him a crowd favourite from Paris to Tokyo, said it would be “very difficult” for him to win a Grand Slam next year.
Unlike other top players who surround themselves with an entourage of physiotherapists, psychologists and fitness trainers, Paradorn travels just with his coach, Chanachai, who also happens to be his father.
Paradorn dismisses suggestions that he should find a professional to replace his father, his coach since the age of six.
“I’ve heard these suggestions for four years but my father’s work has proved itself as I’ve moved up from 500th rank to 18th,” said Paradorn, who turned professional in 1997. “My father and I have worked closely together. He’s my best coach.”
Paradorn’s emergence as one of the game’s most exciting young players is a major boost for the men’s game which is sometimes accused of lacking characters.
In his native Thailand, Paradorn fever grips the country, giving a boost to tennis-related businesses.
The Yonex tennis racket Paradorn uses has become a scarce commodity in Thailand and across Asia, according to distributors.
Thai parents are queuing up to enrol their children on tennis courses in the hope that they will emulate Paradorn.
“I’ll try to improve my performance to be a good role model for children, to be a hero in their hearts,” Paradorn said.