For Thai Players, a Welcome Taste of Home

Paradorn Srichaphan lost to Kenneth Carlsen in the second round, but was cheered raucously by members of the Thai Tennis Organization in America.
Paradorn Srichaphan lost to Kenneth Carlsen in the second round, but was cheered raucously by members of the Thai Tennis Organization in America. (By Rich Lipski -- The Washington Post)
By Melanie Ho
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 2, 2006

For a moment, George Duangmanee was disturbed.

Asked if Paradorn Srichaphan was a nice person, Duangmanee looked shocked, but he then explained.

"You know, I met him in 2002 and he slept on the floor and his dad slept on the bed," Duangmanee said of Srichaphan's earlier visits to the Legg Mason Tennis Classic. "He didn't have any money back then. Now, he has a [hotel] suite and a room and he gives his dad the suite and he takes the room."

When Srichaphan or any other Thai tennis player comes to Washington, Duangmanee and other members of the Thai Tennis Organization in America open their homes to some of the players and, during the matches, ensure they are the loudest fans at William H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center.

Yesterday, they congregated to one corner of the court and watched as Srichaphan lost, 6-4, 6-7 (8-6), 3-6, to Denmark's Kenneth Carlsen in the tournament's second round.

TTOA members at the match wore their signature red T-shirts -- red symbolizes good fortune -- and clapped thundersticks, which are considered offensive to tennis purists. They created cheers between points ("Srichaphan, you're the man") and as they wilted under the August sun, they passed each other bottles of water and plastic cups of Singha beer.

"We have to win this match," Duangmanee, the group's managing director, said as Srichaphan held serve in the match's first game.

When Srichaphan broke Carlsen in the second game, Duangmanee's 5-year-old son, George, asked if they could go home yet. Duangmanee did a quick calculation of the number of games Srichaphan needed to win and relayed the information.

Duangmanee has been following Srichaphan since 2001, when he finished the year ranked 126th in the world. The aim was to create a home in Washington for Srichaphan and any other traveling Thai player.

For the players who cannot afford to stay in a hotel, there are beds to sleep in. There is always something to eat; host families ensure there are leftovers for lunch the following day. There was a dinner hosted by the Thai embassy on Friday and TTOA member Chume Bertrand cooked a dinner on Saturday night, inviting 33 people to feast on sticky rice, papaya salad, grilled chicken and Thai-style beef jerky.

"They are like my kids now," Bertrand said. "They call me the team mom or something."

Srichaphan was one of two Thai players at the Legg Mason. The other, Danai Udomchoke, lost in the first round, also to Carlsen.

The group keeps growing. Not long ago, TTOA members sold their red T-shirts for $10 apiece in order to fund their hotel bills at the U.S. Open or at the NASDAQ-100 in Florida. Now, they place a cardboard box filled with T-shirts in the middle of the grandstand and freely distribute them to anyone who asks.

"This is like my second home for me to play in," Srichaphan said. "I have a lot of fans and family here who cheer for me, but it doesn't mean I can win every match here."

For Srichaphan's following, yesterday's match had its worrisome moments. During the seventh game of the first set, Srichaphan double-faulted three times and lost a break point. Although he won the set, Srichaphan struggled with his service game, landing just 39 percent of his first serves.

Both players played a tight second set, combining for just four break chances and no conversions. The set moved to a tiebreaker and Srichaphan had the opportunity to take the match in straight sets, but could not convert. "It's tough to lose the match when you have two match points," said Srichaphan, who also lost to the left-handed Carlsen last week in Los Angeles.

In the third set, Carlsen took a 5-2 lead before Srichaphan held to force Carlsen to serve out the match.

Facing match point, Srichaphan waited behind the baseline, returned serve, relied on his backhand, switched to his forehand, came into the net and as his ball landed just outside the line, the TTOA members in attendance let out a sigh.

Then just like every good family does, they stood and cheered.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company