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Thailand's twins aim big at Wimbledon

With tennis growing in Asia, double act Sanchai and Sonchat Ratiwatana hope to follow in the Bryan brothers' footsteps.

Last Modified: 24 Jun 2013 19:46
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The Ratiwatana brothers beat their Slovakian opponents on Monday to progress to the second round [Jo Tilley]

When entering the oasis of the All England Club as a fan, troubles are left at the door. Shall I have champagne watching Sharapova or strawberries while cheering on Murray is as difficult as it gets. 

But for some players, matters are more serious. And for others, even more so. Lesser-known players are not thinking about the extra million in the bank account, but about affording the flight home.   

The doubles tournament at Wimbledon is not as prestigious as the singles, but it allows players to perform on the big stage who otherwise would be miles away.

Thailand’s twin brothers Sanchai and Sonchat Ratiwatana are one example. Just over a week after winning a tournament in Nottingham, they defeated Slovakians Aljaz Bedene and Grega Zemlja in four-sets to progress to the second round.

A break between tournaments gave the twins the opportunity to prepare for Wimbledon on UK soil, but they told Al Jazeera they didn’t have much choice.

"It was great to win in Nottingham, we gained a lot of confidence from it. But we couldn’t fly back to Bangkok because we couldn’t afford to," says Sanchai Ratiwatana, without a trace of sweat after victory.

This may be a far cry from the lifestyles led by the world’s top tennis players, but then again tennis in Asia is still playing catch-up.

The ATP tour is dominated by Europeans, and one thing you cannot fail to notice when walking the courts of SW19 is the predominance of white faces.

Tennis is not popular in Thailand at the moment but it is changing slowly. There are more international sporting events held there now and this is great because top players usually attend these

Sonchat Ratiwatana,

"Tennis is not popular in Thailand at the moment but it is changing slowly. There are more international sporting events held there now and this is great because top players usually attend these," says identical brother Sonchat, in perfect English.  

"We try to support players back home in Thailand and encourage the authorities to put on more tournaments, as money and travelling is still a problem for many. There is the money there though."

Sporting icons are vital to this development process.

The growth of tennis in Thailand can be traced to the legacy of one player.

"Things in Asia changed 10 years ago when Paradorn Srichaphan broke into the world top ten. Since then there has been more interest in the game" says Sanchai.  

It was also boosted by female star Tamarine Tanasugarn, who reached world number 10 in 2002, becoming the highest ranking Thai female player.  

Double act 

While watching the Ratiwatana brothers play some superb tennis on Court 15 , it was clear they shared a special understanding. It must help being twins?

"I think it does. We have played each other ever since we were born. Or it feels like it. I think it makes it easier being brothers. We stay together, whereas other doubles players get together and then split, or go to play singles" says Sanchai.

Sanchai and Sonchat are certainly not the only brothers on the scene. 

"We look up to the Bryan brothers (America’s world number one double act). They are the best. We have played them twice and lost twice."

But it appears playing with your brother does come with a price tag.

"Of course we get fed up of each other!" they reply in unison.

"You would get annoyed spending that much time with anyone," Sanchai says... or was it Sonchat?

While their four-set victory looked convincing on paper, the duo found it tough to close the game out.  

"The first round is difficult because you don’t know how much your opposition care. Some of them don’t care as much because they are in the singles too. That can be dangerous because they will just smash it. Obviously we care!"

In fact, they probably need to care –  the prize money is invaluable and their presence invaluable to tennis back home, especially as there are no Thailand players in the singles.   

Asia does have its fair share of representatives though. Kei Nishikori and Li Na are leading the charge, and in the women’s draw China and Japan have three representatives each in round one.

But back to Sanchai and Sonchat – how far can these two go in this tournament?

They believe they can surpass their best Wimbledon finish, the third-round. In fact, the glint in their eye says much further.   

They won’t allow themselves a break back in Bangkok, unless they do. 

Joanna Tilley is a freelance journalist working with Al Jazeera on the Sport website and reporting from the Wimbledon Championships. She has worked at Sky News, Sky Sports News and LBC Radio.

Follow her on Twitter (@joannatilley) or her website, http://mythoughtonsport.blogspot.com/

Al Jazeera is not responsible for the content of external websites.

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Al Jazeera
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