Experience counts as Tamarine delivers

Locked in a tense battle for gold against the Philippines in the SEA Games women's tennis team competition yesterday, Thailand turned to a familiar face to calm their fraying nerves.

Veteran Tamarine Tanasugarn, the 2008 Wimbledon quarter-finalist, and her partner Noppawan Lertcheewakarn had to win the crucial third match for Thailand to retain their team title for a fourth straight time at the Kallang Tennis Centre.

Thailand had taken the lead when Wongteanchai Varatchaya beat the Philippines' Khim Iglupas 6-2, 6-2. But their second singles player, Luksika Kumkhum, lost to the Philippines' lower-ranked Katharina Lehnert 6-2, 5-7, 6-7 (3-7) to even the tie at 1-1.

That put the spotlight on 38-year-old veteran Tamarine, the 2007 and 2009 SEA Games women's doubles gold medallist, who had to deliver.

"I just wanted to concentrate on my match and I knew the result would come," she told The Straits Times later. "I was a little bit anxious but my strategy was simple - just focus. I didn't want to be affected by how our other matches went."

Buoyed by the cheering, predominantly Thai, crowd, Tamarine and Noppawan easily defeated the Philippines' Lehnert and Denise Dy 6-0, 6-2.

That helped Thailand to land the gold with a 2-1 margin.

Said Tamarine, who was also the 2014 Asian Games women's doubles gold medallist: "This gold means a lot to me and it is a good warm-up for my next events (mixed doubles and women's doubles)."

Luksika, 21, blamed an injury for letting her team down. "An injury I suffered one month before the Games caused me to lose my balance and prevented me from running fast. (Lehnert) started becoming more confident. I was under more pressure to win and she had nothing to lose," she said.

Fortunately for Thailand, they could still depend on Tamarine, who was ranked as high as world No. 19 in 2002, to win when it mattered.

The veteran, boosted by the victory, said she had no plans to retire yet: "If I am good physically, I will definitely play on."

The Thais beat Indonesia 2-1 in the men's team final, with twins Sanchai and Sonchat Ratiwatana sealing the title by defeating Christopher Rungkat and Aditya Sasongko 6-4, 6-4 in the doubles.

Said Sanchai: "We could communicate better. We played with a good rhythm."


This article was first published on June 10, 2015.
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