Thailand's Paradorn Srichaphan continued his remarkable journey toward tennis stardom at the Tennis Masters Madrid on Tuesday, toppling three-time Roland Garros champion Gustavo Kuerten of Brazil, 6-4, 6-4, in a first round encounter. Perennial fan favorite Kuerten, whose ranking has slipped as he has battled back from hip surgery in February, had received a wildcard entry into the tournament.
Srichaphan combined a patient attacking game with dominant serving to defeat Kuerten, as he won 87 percent of the points on his first serve and never faced a break point. After winning his first ATP title at Long Island and reaching two more finals (Chennai, Washington D.C.) in 2002, Srichaphan seems as taken aback by his success as anyone else.
"It looks like it just keeps coming and coming," he said. "I feel confidence to go on court with anybody. You know, I just think that I have nothing to lose to anybody, so I just go out there and try to play my best. That's how it's happening."
The 23-year-old Bangkok resident said he believes he can win the hearts of the Spanish crowd. "I think when I first walked on court with Guga, there was more noise like, 'Let's go, Guga.' I'm used to it, I always walk on court with a bigger name. I just stay low, and show them what I have."
With the tremendous strides he has made on the circuit, Srichaphan has firmly established himself as one of the best players ever to come out of Asia (indeed, just three days ago he captured the gold medal at the Asian Games in South Korea). Furthermore, at a career high Entry System ranking of No. 28, he is poised to break into the ranks of the world's very best.
However, there is one drawback to his globetrotting success in 2002, Srichaphan noted. "My friends [back home] are always telling me, 'You may need a Visa for Thailand to come back here!' I haven't been home a lot." He added that he is looking forward to the nearly two months break he will have following the BNP Paribas Masters in Paris.
Srichphan must immediately look to his matchup tomorrow with British No. 4 seed Tim Henman, who has defeated him all four times they have played, including an impressive straight-set win in Davis Cup play last month.
In other afternoon action Tuesday, American qualifier Jan-Michael Gambill looked strong in a 7-6(3), 6-3 win over Andrei Pavel that moves him into a second-round clash with No. 2 seed Andre Agassi. Other first-round winners were Croatia's Ivan Ljubicic, Ecuador's Nicolas Lapentti and Spanish wildcard Feliciano Lopez.