Originally created 01/18/00

A small triumph for Asian tennis



MELBOURNE, Australia -- His hobbies include car racing, watching Thai kickboxing and, lately, beating Karol Kucera, one of the top tennis players in the world.

Thailand's Paradorn Srichaphan upset the 14th-seeded Kucera 6-2, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 Monday in the first round of the Australian Open, repeating his performance of Jan. 6 in the Hopman Cup team tournament in Perth.

"I know how to play him a little," said the 20-year-old Thai, whose success has made him a darling in Thailand and shifted some attention, if temporarily, away from the national obsession: soccer.

Asian tennis lags behind Europe and the United States, where juniors become enmeshed in training and a full menu of matches before they reach high school. Many Asian governments are unwilling to devote resources to a game played by a relatively small number of players.

Goichi Motomura of Japan, who lost 6-3, 6-3, 6-2 to France's Sebastian Grosjean in the first round Monday, said he traveled to Melbourne with only his coach, father and brother. There was not a Japanese tennis official in sight.

"Someone should come to watch my match," Motomura said.

Still, Asian players have made an impact on the sport.

Last year, Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi became the first men's doubles team to reach the final in all four Grand Slam tournaments in the same year, winning two, and finished the year ranked No. 1.

Bhupathi also teamed with Japan's Ai Sugiyama to win the mixed doubles title at the U.S. Open.

Srichaphan and Tamarine Tanasugarn took Thailand to the title match of the Hopman Cup last month before losing to South Africa, drawing praise from Thai Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai.

"They have put Thailand into the limelight and are excellent models for Thai children and youth," Chuan said.

On Monday, Paes beat Dejan Petrovic of Austria 6-2, 3-6, 7-6 (7-5), 6-4.

In women's matches, Sugiyama, who is ranked 24th in the world, beat Magdalena Maleeva of Bulgaria 7-6 (7-3), 7-6 (7-4) and China's Jing-qian Yi defeated Laurence Courtois of Belgium 7-6 (7-5), 6-2.

There currently is a dearth of Asian women in the top ranks -- only four are ranked in the top 100 in the world, including Janet Lee, a native of California who plays Fed Cup for Taiwan.

Japan's Kimiko Date reached as high as No. 5 in the world and Indonesia's Yayuk Basuki ranked a career-high No. 19 in 1997. Date has retired and Basuki plays only sporadically.

Tanasugarn is ranked 72nd in the world, Fang Li of China 92nd and Lee 94th.

Despite their success, the Asian players still get little respect.

Srichaphan next plays Slava Dosedel of the Czech Republic, but Kucera doesn't think much of his conqueror's chances.

"He doesn't play too good," the Slovakian said. "I don't see big potential in his game."



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