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Iced Thai

by Jon Wertheim, Sports Illustrated

Paradorn Srichaphan was, as they say, a big name before he became a big name. But after a few seasons of erratic results, the 23-year-old recently has emerged as a bona fide star. Wielding his Thai stick, he smoked Andre Agassi at Wimbledon, Lleyton Hewitt in Tokyo and Marat Safin in Tashkent. The winner of two titles and more than $500,000 in 2002, Srichaphan is on the cusp of finishing the year ranked in the top 20. And he's done it with the most serene disposition you'll find in a professional athlete. Sports Illustrated's Jon Wertheim caught up with tennis' newest Zen Master before Srichiphan headed to Paris for the final event of his breakthrough year.

Jon Wertheim: You start the year at No. 126 and now you're in the top 20. Your diagnosis?

Paradorn Srichaphan: Well, some of it is that I have been working hard, but I also reached a point where it was the right time to break through. I corrected my weakness, which was going too much for my shots and trying hit winners from anywhere on the court. Right now, I work the ball a little bit and wait for the right moment or shot to go for it.

Wertheim: These past few years seem to have been up and down for you -- some big wins and then some losses that are hard to figure out.

Srichaphan: Yeah, very up and down. I really tried to be more consistent this year and it seems like it's worked.

Wertheim: You've beaten Agassi at Wimbledon, Hewitt, Safin, Tim Henman, most of the big guys. Are you one of these guys who gets up to play the top players but then has a hard time finding motivation when the opponent isn't so well-known?

Srichaphan: Yeah, you know, it's more relaxing to play the guys who are higher-ranked, the bigger names. I know I can play these guys -- if I play consistent and hold my serve it's going to be a good result -- and you really go out there feeling like you have nothing to lose.

Wertheim: Many players initially are coached by their fathers, but then someone else takes over. Your father [Chanachai] is still your coach. What's that relationship like, personally and professionally?

Srichaphan: Well, he videotapes all my matches. He's filming me -- not so much the other guy -- with the video camera so we can see my body language on the court. That helps. He is always giving me support, but letting me figure things out for myself, too.

Wertheim: Being from Bangkok, it's not as though you can pop home during the weeks you're not playing. Have you ever thought about setting up a base camp in the States, say, getting a place at Saddlebrook?

Srichaphan: I'm happy with Bangkok. I never really practice outside of Thailand. Even though it's far, that's home.

Wertheim: I understand you built a house outside Bangkok?

Srichaphan: Well, I live with my parents. In Thai culture, if you have a new house, you better be getting married first. You don't just move out and stay alone. But we have another house about a four-hour drive from Bangkok and we have two tennis courts there.

Wertheim: I once read there were no clay courts ...

Srichaphan: [Laughing.] Right, none. No clay courts in Thailand. Not even one. I'm thinking about building one because it would be great to have one at my house for practicing.

Wertheim: How does it feel to be the Michael Jordan of Thailand?

Srichaphan: Now is a big time. Every match of mine is [televised] live in Thailand, and I'm on the news every day. I'm OK with it. But I haven't been home for a while. We'll see what it's like when I go home next week.

Wertheim: You're one of the few, if not the only, Buddhist players on tour. How does your faith intersect with your tennis?

Srichaphan: Well, it keeps me calm. Even when I lose, it takes me maybe 20 minutes or half an hour to cool down and forget about the match. Then I'm smiling again. Other players, they lose and get upset for two days. I pray maybe one or two minutes before I go to sleep but I'm not really serious about those things.

Wertheim: Superstitions?

Srichaphan: I shower in the same stall during tournaments. If I go in and someone is in there, even if there's another one open, I'm going to wait.

Wertheim: I remember Andy Roddick telling me that you and your father might be the two nicest guys on the whole tour. Is it possible to be too nice out there?

Srichaphan: Well, even if I am No. 1 in the world I'm going to be like this. It's just how I am. I'm not changing at all. I try to treat everyone nice, because we're all friends, we're all in the same profession. Why do you have to make yourself so important?

Wertheim: Who are your best friends on tour?

Srichaphan: Lots of guys -- Andy, [Jan-Michael] Gambill, Cecil Mamiit. Lots of guys.

Wertheim: Are we beginning to see a real presence of players from Southeast Asia on the professional level?

Srichaphan: I'd like to think so, yes. But it's still difficult for Asians, Southeast Asians, because the economics are really important. Who is going to pay for travel to the tournaments? You can't just go play one or two tournaments and you're successful. You have to play a lot, and that costs money. But we're seeing some players from Indonesia, for example. I was at the Asian Games a few weeks ago -- it's like the Olympics for Asia -- and tennis was very big, so that's a good sign.

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Hi, Jess!

Thanks for putting it here, I read it on CNNSI too and i think he's really a nice, likeable guy.

Srichaphan: Well, even if I am No. 1 in the world I'm going to be like this. It's just how I am. I'm not changing at all. I try to treat everyone nice, because we're all friends, we're all in the same profession. Why do you have to make yourself so important?

love his attitude...he's so down to earth...:)
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