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If there is one thing everyone can picture in the mind when thinking about Thai tennis start Tamarine Tanasugarn is her broad and unconditional smile. The 39 year old only officially called it a career earlier this year even though her last official match was dated back to April 2015. Having always been the face of the pure love for tennis for the dedication and passion showed throughout her career, she was invited as a former star to promote the WTA Finals in Singapore and the love with which she was welcomed by fans, journalists and staff only proved how much of a character she has always been on the tour.
“I am good, everything is good and as I have officially retired during July this year, I am home and still alive!” she said with a welcoming and warm voice: “It was tough to stop. Obviously, since my mother got sick I had to slow down my tennis to take care of her, so maybe this made it ‘easier’ for me to switch life as it forced me to stop travelling. But it is sad, because I miss competing on the tour, I miss travelling… it has always been my life, so it feels different not to do it. That means that I haven’t travelled that much and I have opened a tennis school in Thailand, so I am having fun with that as it’s a new challenge in life. Especially the young ones can be a fun challenge!”
Going from being a player to teaching the sport is a big change in life, but it does not come as a surprise that she went down this path. I personally remember at one of the first ITFs I have ever covered in my career that she was spending a lot of time in the potato fields that the practice courts of Nottingham used to be. When most players would complain about the bad bounces and difficult conditions, she was always smiling and laughing, even when a faux bounce had her falling on her knees for a missed ball. She would then go on and dispense tips on how to adapt to grass and other details to the younger girls struggling with the conditions.
“It is different, but I like challenges. One of these is that I need to keep up my skills and actually improve my tennis, because the sport is changing continuously and I need to know what is good for my students and how to teach them. Technology has changed things from when I learnt it: with Youtube and all these platforms is all new to me and I have to adjust to this, because they can help the kids to learn”, she explained.
Her love for the game is probably only as big as the one for her country as she admits she hopes to see someone reaching the same results she had to promote her sport in Thailand: “Right now, honestly, tennis is going a little slower than before. We have badminton and volley going strong and golf too now. But I am pretty positive in that and we have Luksika Kumkhum who has a lot of talent and I hope she can find her way and breakthrough again. She has it and has passed these tests before by beating great players like [Petra] Kvitova, so I hope she can comeback”.
Her humbleness even when assessing her status as a former star here was another display of her personality. In fact, rather than talking about herself and her role in the promotion of the event, she described the happiness she felt by seeing old friends: “First of all, I feel very honoured and being back here is great because you see all of the old friends. It feels like a reunion with the other players, the WTA stuff… it’s a part of my life, because I’ve been with them for almost 20 years and it brings back great memories. To feel the atmosphere of a tournament is fantastic too… it makes you remember of how glamorous the life of a tennis player is: we have good transportation, good hotels, we can see the whole world! You see many people, every kind of people and get to know them in many aspects”.
Even though it has been a while since she played her last WTA event, Tanasugarn has maintained good relationships with several players of the tour, making it clear that some friendships not only can blossom in a competitive world, but can last longer than one’s career: “One is for sure Yayuk [Basuki] and then I am often chatting with Yaroslava Shvedova and Marina Erakovic… Li Na once in a while too. Here I met Martina [Navratilova] and Arantxa [Sanchez-Vicario] this week and even if I got to know Martina only during her second comeback and I haven’t played against her, I have always admired for how amazingly she could perform in every part of her life”.
Unsurprisingly, one of her best two memories is indeed connected to one of her friends and as most would expect they both come from SW19. “Well, for sure my glory moment was being in the quarter finals at Wimbledon against Venus [Williams], but most good memories come from Wimbledon, because I have always performed well there. I would say then being in the semifinals indoubles with Marina [Erakovic]. We were lucky losers there and we got to the semis, like wow!”
With her tennis career behind and a school to run, what is the next goal for “Tammy”? “I would like to open a tennis academy so this is the next big goal. For sure, I want to see another Thai player to be top 50 in the world, so I hope that my experience can help them and maybe I will be back on the tour with them again and I will back to this life again”.
Being here in Singapore for the WTA Finals, she has had the chance to take a close look at the best players that 2016 has to offer and having been so long on the tour, she is capable of evaluating the final of these girls: “I feel, when I come back here, that this is definitely top 8 stuff. They are all great competitors, tough and determined. Tennis is more challenging than in the past, the sport is different and everyone is a lot more into their career. In the past me and others would just hang out after the game and have a beer… now you don’t see that, because everyone is more professional. I think they all have more education as well: they know tennis is not a long career, I mean, 15 years is a long career, but not as long as golf or others, so you need to maintain you peak during your tennis career”.
But who is her favourite of the lot? “I admire and I love the game of Angie Kerber, because I also played her in the past and I know she is the most working hard, determined and never-give-up player. She puts everything on court on every match and that is why she is so strong both mentally and tennis-wise”.
I can’t but wish all the best to Tammy now and hopefully we will indeed see her soon on the tour with the next big star from her country.