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ATP CHALLENGER TOUR DISPATCH: BANGKOK
Veteran tennis writer Robert Davis will be following the ATP Challenger Tour circuit this year and will write a series of reports. This week, he is at the ATP Challenger Tour event in Bangkok, Thailand.
Bangkok is affectionately called The Big Mango by expatriates. This week, the ATP Challenger Tour arrives in Thailand, just as the US Open gets started in the Big Apple, and all the locker room chatter on-site is about the results in New York. In fact, a few of the players in the draw here, top seedGo Soeda included, just arrived from the qualifying rounds in New York.
It is interesting to observe the reactions of the players when they discuss who qualified or not for the main draw at Flushing Meadows. The comments vary from surprise to shock. Because all the guys in the qualifying draw of a Grand Slam are the same ones who compete regularly out here on the ATP Challenger Tour. So there is an element of familiarity among all these players. That is what is unique about the sport of tennis – each professional tournament has a qualifying event. So in effect, a qualifier can make it to the main draw and have a chance of playing a Top 10 player in the world. Just asTaro Daniel did when he played Milos Raonic in the first round of the US Open.
“The ATP Challenger Tour gives us hope” says Sanchai Ratiwatana. “That all of us out here can test our games against the best in the world, on the biggest stages in tennis.”
Of course it takes plenty of skill and years of labour to win on the ATP Challenger Tour, but the reward is worth the effort. Just look at Marco Chiudinelli and Blaz Kavcic. Both of these guys came back to the Challenger Tour after slipping off the ATP World Tour. They worked hard, travelled far and did a lot of little things right to get back to form. Both Chiudinelli and Kavcic have qualified for the US Open.
However, the problem with professional tennis is that doing the right things each day does not guarantee immediate wins. What it does guarantee is that the player will give himself opportunities to excel. Whether he takes advantage of those opportunities has a lot more to do with self-belief than physical strokes.
As Thailand is a family friendly place with great shopping, we have plenty of families with the guys this week. It also helps that our official hotel, Rama Gardens, is a five star resort with the tennis courts and the swimming pool only a few steps from the hotel lobby. And it is not just the players who brought their families, but also some of the ATP staff.
Veteran ATP Supervisor Ed Hardisty is running the show this week. Big Ed, as he is called by the boys, runs a tight ship and gets the next days’ schedule out quickly so the players can plan in advance. It helps players like Toshihide Matsui, Bumpei Sato, Danai Udomchoke and Sonchat Ratiwatana, who not only have their wives with them, but also their young babies. If you thought playing professional tennis was difficult enough, try keeping the wives and kids happy at the same time.
“It is great that we can bring our families with us to such a nice city and venue,” says Matsui. “We have to travel so much each year and be away from home, that when there is an event like this one in Bangkok, it is a chance to work and have family sharing time all together.”
“I just hope my wife does not spend more on shopping than I earn in prize money,” jokes Sato. “No, seriously this is a really nice place to play in. No need for transportation and we get to spend time with other players and their families too.”
While we are on the subject of families on the ATP Challenger Tour, it seems that each wife or parent has their own ATP live score horror story. Or half a dozen. Chatchai Ratiwatana, father of Sonchat and Sanchai Ratiwatana, follows live scores from beginning to end whenever his sons are playing. And he has learned the hard way that a tennis match is never won or lost until the final point is over.
“There have been so many matches when I used to get really anxious following the back and forth of live score,” Ratiwatana says. “So many times I thought my boys were going to win, or going to lose. Then the opposite happened. These days I just have a few cold beers and enjoy the fact that my boys are able to travel the world and support their families by playing the sport that they love so much.”
That is something that those families and fans back home sometimes struggle to understand by following the scores and statistics online, without seeing the actual match. Coach Chuck Kriese has spent more than 30 years studying momentum management in tennis.
“Very simply, managing momentum is the how, when and why,” Kriese explains. “What a player is trying to do is to get the momentum, then keep it, and figure out how to get it back if he loses it.
“Oftentimes, a player will play worse and his hand skills will break down by committing unforced errors when he is leading as all the pressure is on him now to win,” continues Kriese. “This is true until the player is finally comfortable leading, and then his hand skills will work well for the remainder of match. And often a player will play better when he is behind in the score and come up with some great shots. That is until the pressure becomes too much and they crack.”
And for all those families back home following the live scores, here is something to consider: When the pressure becomes too much and you feel like cracking, try what Chatchai Ratiwatana does when his boys are up and down – open a few cold beers.