From Tennis Courts to Movie Sets, Srichaphan Continues to Thrill
by Robert Davis|
Out of action for almost three years, Thailand’s Paradorn Srichaphan announced his retirement from professional tennis this week. While it was a persistent wrist injury that had sidelined him, it was an awful motorcycle racing accident recently that broke both hands and severely injured a knee which dealt the coup de grace on one of tennis great ambassadors.
A former Top 10 player, Srichaphan’s rise to the top read like a fairy tale. On the way to winning five ATP World Tour titles and a career-high South African Airways ATP Ranking of No. 9 (12 May 2003), Paradorn captured the hearts of millions and was the inspiration of the ‘Asian Invasion’ on the men’s and women’s tennis tours.
Srichaphan’s charismatic smile and ‘grip it and rip it’ slugfest style electrified fans while earning him a legion of followers worldwide. But it was in Asia, at the height of his career, where his popularity was so widespread that the press dubbed it, “Paradorn Fever”.
During that time billboards with his bare-chested image lined expressways, tennis racquet sales soared and politicians jockeyed for photo-ops with the young man nicknamed, ‘Ball’. Paradorn rose so high in status that he received a private royal audience with the King of Thailand, an honour usually reserved for heads of state. When Srichaphan took to the court, everyone from the noodle vendor to the prime minister tuned in. And after each match, diplomats, businessmen and rock stars queued to shake the hand of the young man that was filling stadiums and dominating the news all over Asia.
His native Thailand is known around the world as the ‘Land of Smiles’, and nobody personified that better than Paradorn Srichaphan. Recognising his ability to attract people, Thailand Tourism Authority named him as their Cultural Ambassador and the government granted him a red diplomatic passport. His easy going manner and friendly ways on the tennis court earned him the Stefan Edberg Sportsmanship Award in 2002 and 2003. And Time Magazine Asia featured him on the cover as an Asian Hero.
“Paradorn means so much to all of us,” claims Davis Cup teammate Sanchai Ratiwatana. “He is more than a big brother, he is a hero and he has showed us how to achieve our dreams.”
There are more testaments to his legacy. Thailand’s Noppawan Lertcheewakarn, the 2009 girl’s Wimbledon champion and World No. 1, credits Paradorn for opening the doors to Asians.
“Before Paradorn we were not sure if we were good enough,” says Lertcheewakarn. “But when he started winning so much, we knew that we (Asians) could follow his example.”
During his career, Srichaphan would reach 11 ATP World Tour finals, winning five titles and finish 2003 at a year-end best World No. 11. But it was the victory over Andre Agassi on Centre Court at Wimbledon in 2002 that propelled him to demi-god status in Asia. An Asian defeating one of the greatest players of the game on the hallowed court of the All England Lawn Tennis Club was a dream come true.
Even off the court, Paradorn remained in the spotlight, whether it was marrying a former Miss Universe, Natalie Glebova, racing motorbikes or opening restaurants, Paradorn’s star appeal never waned. Last year, a movie director came calling his name, and Paradorn accepted the role of an action hero in the Thai movie sequel, Bang Rajan II. Just like his days on the tennis court, Paradorn stole the show and a promising career as an actor is now in full swing.
Though his playing days are over, Paradorn remains involved in tennis as the Thai Davis Cup captain and occasional exhibition match.
They say in Thailand that Srichaphan was born to be on centre court, now it seems that he will continue to thrill the masses, except this time it is likely to be on centre stage.