| Asia’s top tennis star Paradorn Srichaphan at the city airport Saturday, during a transit halt en route to Chennai. On his right is his father and coach, Chanachai. Picture by Santosh Ghosh
Nobody has made a bigger splash in men’s tennis this year than Paradorn Srichaphan. While many have mesmerised the world with their talent, very few have jumped 100 places in world rankings, comprehensively outplayed star players — be it Lleyton Hewitt or Andre Agassi.
On his way to set Tata Open ablaze in Chennai, the 23-year-old Paradorn, spoke to The Telegraph in Calcutta. Accompanied by his father and coach, Chanachai, Paradorn seemed every bit the confident tennis player he is on court.
“He’s been training hard and I believe he’ll do very well in 2003 as well,” Chanachai had said in Bangkok, before leaving for India.
On Saturday, Paradorn, certainly the highest-ranked Asian in two decades, reflected his father’s thoughts. “I have come here to win. I have worked very hard on my tennis, and reached this level. Now, apart from giving my best, all I can do is pray,” he quipped.
What about his opponents in Chennai' Guillermo Canas, Mark Philippousis, Scheng Schalken… “I know all of them very well. I haven’t singled out any one whom I would consider the toughest opponent. I will have to play well against all.
“I liked playing in Chennai last year. The crowds are good. I hope I have a good time there again,” hoped Paradorn, who turned pro in 1997.
The last two months that the world No. 16 spent at home in Bangkok, he has knocked hard on the courts of the Piyarom Sports Club with brother Thanakorn.
Paradorn’s success has led to a vast interest in tennis in a football-crazy country. His phenomenal achievements have resulted in Paradorn fever with Paradorn shirts, caps, bands and toys selling like hot cakes.
But the highly-talented star remains the humble man he was. On Saturday, he walked all the way from the international airport in Calcutta to the domestic terminal, pulling his luggage along.
The Asian Games gold medal completed a wonderful year for the Thai, in which he also won two ATP titles at Long Island and Stockholm.
The win over Agassi at Wimbledon this year, though, remains his sweetest moment of triumph. Agassi was beaten 4-6, 6-7, 2-6 in the second round. Paradorn, however, did not progress any further — losing out to Richard Krajicek.
His success philosophy is very simple. “I work on targets and my father spurs me to achieve them. We work as a team.”
This year the target is to bulldoze into the top 10. And that too, under the guidance of his father.
Paradorn has no wish to change his coach, now that he had achieved so much in the past year. “There’s no way I’ll change my father as coach” Paradorn declared. “And why should I' He knows my game so well and he’s got me where I am.
“It might not be easy to go up, but it’s even harder to stay there. This year is going to be very tough for me. I have to maintain my level, keep playing well,” he said.
Now that he has achieved so much, Paradorn wants to be an example to juniors in Asia. He wants youngsters to follow his lead, just like he has ‘admired’ Michael Chang all his life.
About joining the army, Pardorn remains non-committal, dismissive for that matter. “No I don’t think I am going to join the army.” And he smiled.
In Thailand it is compulsory for men to serve a term in the army. Paradorn reported for service in 2000, but deferred his conscription for three years.
Meanwhile, his father plans to write a book on his coaching methods for his son, which he says is a ‘mixture’ of techniques that he had imbibed from coaches and coaching institutes around the world.