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Thai twins twinkle in top-tier tennis

January 04, 2008 18:57 IST

In the absence of Paradorn Srichaphan, doubles duo Sonchat and Sanchai Ratiwatana are serving the Thai treat at the 2008 Chennai Open. They don't bow and charm, but having won their first ATP title in September, the twins from Bangkok are making a definite headway in top-flight tennis and popularity charts in Asia.

Even though they were put up on the side court for their second round match against Austria's Alexander Peya and Jurgen Melzer, the crowds filed in to catch a glimpse of the brightly-clothed, earnest twins.

They overcame a twisted ankle -- Sanchai injured himself early in the match -- and a set deficit to defeat their opponents 4-6, 7-5, 10-3 on Thursday evening.

"We were lucky to get through this one," says Sonchat, the elder of the twins by four minutes.

Sonchat and Sanchai Ratiwatana"Every team is tough at this level. But now we believe we can beat them; we believe we can come back from any situation and always have a chance in the match."

A few months ago it was this belief, or the lack of it, that saw them squander seven match-points against India's Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi in the final of the Asian Games in Doha.

Staring at a triple match-point in the second set, the duo let the occasion get to them. Paes-Bhupathi, the veteran warriors, needed only that little space to get back into the match.

The Indian pair snatched a 5-7, 7-6, 6-3 victory to reclaim the gold medal.

"We've forgotten the silver medal," they say, before admitting it was the "turning point of our career."

"Earlier we didn't think we could beat the best in the world. But in Doha we beat the Japanese pair of (Satoshi Iwabuchi and Toshihide Matsui) whom we had lost to in the team event and the Davis Cup that year.

"And coming so close to beating Paes and Bhupathi, still one of the best teams in the world, boosted our confidence.

"Now we are getting used to the speed of top tennis. Teams playing in the ATP are more consistent and focused, their concentration is better."

Sonchat and Sanchai -- who are named after their father Chatchai since it's considered lucky in Thai tradition to include part of their parents' name -- faltered again in Los Angeles when they were "a set and a break up".

But they made the breakthrough, winning the 2007 Bangkok Open to become the first Thai pair to claim an ATP doubles title.

"Winning at home was special," says Sonchat.

"Now we will concentrate more on playing ATPs, maybe 20-30 tournaments a year. It's become more difficult for us to play in the Challengers because we are the team to beat and most players know our game well."

The special connection twins share is helping, with the duo saying that they can sometimes read each other's minds and feelings. And while most teams are breaking up due to professional or personal reasons, Sanchai and Sonchat can't even think of looking beyond each other.

Termed the Asian 'Bryans', the Ratiwatanas want a taste of the real thing-a twin duel with Mike and Bob.

"We really want to play them, and, hopefully, win."

Deepti Patwardhan in Chennai