Tennis elite make merit in Hua Hin as new season opens

Tennis elite make merit in Hua Hin as new season opens
French tennis player Richard Gasquet gives alms to a Buddhist monk during a traditional ceremony to mark the New Year at the Thai resort town of Hua Hin.

The six elite players at the World Tennis Thailand Championship kicked off their 2015 calendar by offering alms to monks on New Year's Day on a Hua Hin beach, in hope of an auspicious start to the season.

World No 7 Tomas Berdych, No 8 Milos Raonic, No 10 David Ferrer, No 19 John Isner, No 20 Fabio Fognini and No 26 Richard Gasquet dressed in Khao Tao shirts, a traditional garment in Prachuap Khirikhan province, for the early-morning merit-making.

Seven monks from nearby Khaolunthom Temple received alms from the players who in return were given a fabric amulet believed to protect its bearer from harm and bring good luck.

"It is really too early for me [to wake up] but it's nice. This is something different from what we do and it's really special for us," said Fognini, who performed the ritual alongside girlfriend and world No 12 Flavia Pennetta.

When told about the Thai belief that a couple who together give alms to monks will meet again in the next life, Fognini gave Pennetta a smile and a high-five before saying: "I don't know about that belief, but I hope so. We are happy to hear that."

"We would like to enjoy our lives together at the moment. We are still young. A lot of things can happen. Hopefully things will be more wonderful than 2014," added the winner of three ATP titles.

Pennetta, who won the WTA Bangkok Open six years ago, was also pleased to get her year started with an age-old Thai custom.

"It's very nice to do something traditional and it's different [to how we start the year] where we come from," added Pennetta, Italy's No 1.

The tennis couple have been sharing more than romance in Thailand, also helping each other in training for the new season. In Hua Hin, Fognini has been spotted exercising under the instruction of Pennetta.

"Normally we don't help each other on the training, but our coaches are still at home. But I try to help him when I can and he does the same," Pennetta said.

American Isner and his long-time girlfriend Madison McKinley also gave alms to monks together and were impressed with the custom.

" I don't know much about the whole Thai tradition and beliefs. But I know it's a great way to bring in the new year. For us to get up early, feed the monks and be a part of that is special. It's certainly something you don't get to do that often," said Isner, one of the tallest players on the tour.

McKinley, a University of Texas fashion student and jewellery designer said: "It's extremely cool and peaceful the way they [monks] live their lives. I think the [alms-giving] tradition brings us good luck. Hopefully the rest of the year will be as good as today."

When asked what he was wishing for from 2015, Isner said: "Just standard things. Health and happiness and peace are the most important things. Everything after that is just a bonus."

The players began their 2015 season on New Year's Eve, when the World Tennis Thailand Championship kicked off at Hua Hin's Centennial Park with world No 10 David Ferrer beating Richard Gasquet 3-6 6-4 6-3. Fabio Fognini then downed John Isner 7-5 6-4 in the exhibition event. Gasquet was due to play Isner in the fifth-place match late yesterday, with semi-final clashes between Ferrer and Berdych, and Raonic and Fognini to follow.

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