Weary Thai tennis ace Paradorn feted as cultural ambassador

by Agence France-Presse, Nov 7, 2002 | Destinations: Thailand / Bangkok

BANGKOK, Nov 7, 2002 - Thai tennis sensation Paradorn Srichaphan, the world number 16, on Thursday became the kingdom's latest cultural ambassador in a ceremony at Government House.

Paradorn, who cracked the top 20 this week after a rousing semi-final performance in Paris, was issued a red diplomatic passport from Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

"I will try to show Thai culture even more," he said after receiving his honour.

The likeable 23-year-old has already earned kudos for his graceful nature on court, where he offers a traditional Thai bow, or "wai", to all four corners of the court after each match.

The ritual has endeared him to many international fans for whom the respectful gesture is a rare encounter with Thai culture.

"Paradorn's wai is a good example for Thai teenagers who have forgotten the wai. Most teenagers don't even wai to me," Thaksin said after the ceremony.

Paradorn is suddenly all the rage in his native Thailand, where revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej reportedly has been avidly watching his matches, and he is seen as the kingdom's most amiable cultural ambassador in years.

For now, he appears to appreciate the attention, signing autographs, chatting with supporters and hitting the talkshow circuit.

But the humble star, whose nickname "Ball" has blanketed the Thai media since his return after a string of heroic performances, is said to be tiring of the spotlight.

"We thank the Thai people for the warm welcome and attention but Ball is being stretched by media schedules," his mother Ubon was quoted as saying in the Nation newspaper Thursday.

"We don't want him to be too exhausted taking interviews all the time he stays in Thailand," his father-coach Chanachai was quoted as saying.

A gaggle of multinationals has lined up in the hope of signing sponsorship deals with the rising star.

On Thursday he was due to announce the launch of his own clothing line with Adidas, one of his global sponsors.

Later in the day he was to sign a deal with Thai Airways International, which is providing three million baht (69,280 dollars) worth of free travel for Paradorn and Chanachai.

Several telecoms giants are also believed to be seeking to cash in on Paradorn fever, with proposed sponsorship deals now estimated to total 100 million baht (2.3 million dollars), the English-language daily said.

Paradorn, who now targets breaking into the top 10 next year, has a brief respite before returning to training ahead of the season-opening ATP tournament in Madras, India, beginning December 30.

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