I was practicing at a resort on a small island near Pattaya, off the coast of Thailand, getting ready to start the 2005 season, when someone said, "Have you heard the news about southern Thailand and Phuket?" I went back to my room and turned on my TV, and like everyone else around the world, I couldn't believe what I was seeing. I had just played an exhibition against Nicolas Kiefer in Phuket a few weeks earlier and was looking to buy property there. December and January are the big months for the fancy resorts. The beaches were packed. The way a friend described it to me, it was a calm day and then it was like someone pulled the plug on the ocean.
If you live in California you know what to do in an earthquake. But in Thailand we had no idea what tsunamis even were. We know now. Though we haven't suffered as much as other countries, thousands of Thai people died, and everyone knows of someone who didn't make it or is missing.
I considered pulling out of my next tournament. It just seemed wrong to be playing tennis with so much devastation everywhere. But then I thought that life can go on and maybe, in a small way, I can lift Thai spirits by doing well. Ironically, my first tournament after the disaster was last week in Chennai, India, on the Bay of Bengal, which had also been badly hit by the tsunami. I thought maybe they would cancel the tournament, but they held it, a lot of fans came and I reached the final. I think tennis was a distraction a lot of people welcomed. Still, it was strange: The event was about 10 kilometers from the shores that had been battered.
I've been in contact with family and friends in Bangkok and people in the Thai government. The Thai spirit is strong, and people are coming together and helping out with the relief effort. Like a lot of players, I made a donation and the ATP contributed the sanction fee from the Chennai tournament to a UNICEF emergency relief fund. But I want to do more. I'll play the Australian Open next week, and obviously, I hope I do well. After that, though, I'm going home and seeing how and where I'm able to help out my country in crisis.
January 17, 2005
Paradorn Srichaphan, ranked No. 28 on the ATP Tour, was named Thai of the Year in 2002 by the Nation.