Most of the time, the atmosphere at a tennis match is far less intense than what you would find at other sports events such as football, ice hockey or athletics. But on Wednesday night at the Legg Mason Tennis tournament in Washington, it was a very different story.
When Thailand's Paradorn Srichapan took to Stadium Court for his match against American Paul Goldstein, he was cheered on by a large section of red-clad fanatics who sat together in one corner of the upper deck.
Many held inflatable red plastic noisemakers, Srichapan's favorite color while others played drums and a few waved parasols decorated to look like Thailand's flag. Srichapan gained fame for wearing red clothing at matches around the world. The organized cheering section was put together by the Thai Tennis Organization in America, which has branches in Washington, New York, Los Angeles and Florida. The group's assistant managing director and head of public relations, T Sangkhavasi, who lives in Washington, says it is a privilege to see one of his native country's sports heroes in the United States.
"To see him in my home town is a great experience and a great opportunity," he said.
The organization also has a sponsor, the Thai brewery, Singha Beer. Singha is also sponsoring the women's tournament at this week's Legg Mason Classic.
While most of the fans in Srichapan's cheering section live in the United States, they are not all of Thai descent. For example, Jocelyn Lewis of Oakton, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, learned about Srichapan while taking tennis lessons. "We play at a racquet club where our coach supports the Thai Tennis Organization, so we're all big fans of Paradorn because he's good friends with him," she said.
Srichapan needed all the support he could get Wednesday night. He beat Goldstein in three sets, 6-4, 3-6, 7-5, in a match which lasted more than two and a half hours and was played on one of the warmest nights of the Washington summer. "I ran out of energy today. My battery is really low today. I Just hung in there and fought hard to stay in the match and those people helped me, that's for sure," he said.
Goldstein also enjoyed the atmosphere. He had plenty of his own fans as well, having grown up in Rockville, Maryland, just a short drive out of the city from the stadium court in Rock Creek Park. "They were awesome for both me and him. The contingent of people I believe from Thailand were awesome with their ThunderStix (inflatable clappers), and the crowd for me was, as ever, incredibly supportive, and I'm deeply grateful," he said.
Goldstein added that he hopes the atmosphere and the quality of the tennis on display in his match can attract more fans to the sport. "I think the crowd tonight had a really good time and I hope they did, and I hope it causes them to come back," he said.
If they do return to this event next year, the chances are good that the cheering sections for both Paradorn Srichapan and Paul Goldstein will continue to increase.