[SPORTS] Another star from the East - Tennis Star Paradorn Srichaphan
- Another star from the East
By Karen Crouse, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 2, 2003
NEW YORK -- Catholics could aspire to be president of the United
States, but before John F. Kennedy came along they thought, forget
African-Americans could aspire to be leading ladies in Hollywood, but
before Dorothy Dandridge came along they thought, yeah, right.
It's huge to be able to put a face to the dream. How else are people
supposed to recognize their potential?
A 9-year-old in Bangkok watched the telecast of Michael Chang
defeating Stefan Edberg in the 1989 French Open final and
thought, "Hey, he looks just like me." On that day Paradorn
Srichaphan's career path came into sharp focus.
"He's the one that (made) me think if he can do it, I can do it,"
Srichaphan said the other day.
Srichaphan, the No. 11 seed at the U.S. Open, recently became the
first Asian to crack the global tennis top 10. His ascension would be
considered astonishing if it didn't dovetail nicely with Yao Ming's
debarkation in the NBA and Ichiro Suzuki's and Hideki Matsui's
alighting in major-league base and Grace Park and Se Ri Pak and
Candie Kung excelling on the LPGA Tour and K.J. Choi winning on the
Far from being an advance soldier in the global war for athletic
superiority, Srichaphan is in the vanguard of a movement that's
creating a continental drift in sports. The writing is in sport's
Asia is rising.
You can't have an awakening without w-a-i. After his fourth-round
match against Lleyton Hewitt -- it was postponed because of rain
Monday and will be played today, weather permitting -- Srichaphan
will cup his hands in prayer and bow to all sides of the court.
It is a Buddhist gesture of humility and respect. Like his strapping
serve, it comes second nature to Srichaphan. Ask anybody on the ATP
tour -- Ivan Ljubicic, even -- and he'll tell you: In addition to
being among the most powerful players, Srichaphan also is among the
The truth is, he's sweeter than Thai iced coffee.
"You won't find a nicer guy," said Srichaphan's sometimes doubles
partner Andy Roddick, to whom Srichaphan lost in the final at
Indianapolis last month.
The 24-year-old is careful how he acts because he knows somewhere
there are 9-year-olds watching. Srichaphan's poise and play in the
past 20 months hasn't gone unnoticed by corporate suits in the West.
Chevrolet and Adidas know a ticket into the Asian market when they
see one; both have enlisted Srichaphan as a spokesman.
"I'm not just representing Thailand," Srichaphan said. "I feel that
I'm representing all of Asia, especially Asian tennis."
He is the Tiger Woods of his homeland, turning the country of 60
million people on to his sport in numbers too large to ignore.
Rackets are flying off the shelves like soccer balls or boxing gloves
and the ATP Tour has added Bangkok to its itinerary.
If Srichaphan isn't a household name in the U.S., then shame on us.
SREE-sha-pan should be like a piece of candied ginger that dissolves
on our tongues.
In a 2002 public opinion poll, Srichaphan was named Thai of the Year.
If he were to win the title here, he'd be a lock for Thai of the
With the attention comes more tension. No amount of competitive
stress can wipe the smile off his face. Nothing short of tsunami
could do that.
If Srichaphan looks as tranquil as a sleeping child on the court,
there's a reason. He's as centered as centrifugal force.
"Of course, a lot of people are expecting me to win every match,"
Srichaphan said. "You know, that's good that the people want you to
win. I put it this way: I try to win for them."
In the final Open tuneup, at Long Island, Srichaphan picked up his
fourth career ATP title and a sore throat. So far his game hasn't
shown any coarseness. Srichaphan is the hottest player not named
Roddick, having won his past eight matches.
Srichaphan never has reached the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam. He'll
need to marshal all his grace and gifts to get past Hewitt. The 2001
Open champion has defeated Srichaphan four of the five times they've
It doesn't matter who he's playing. Srichaphan's strategy never
changes. "I try to go out there and have fun, you know, and try to
perform," he said.
Whatever he's doing, it's working. Srichaphan had a whole continent