World No 7 Tomas Berdych returned to Thailand yesterday for the six-man exhibition World Tennis Thailand Championship, which is due to be played at the Hua Hin Centennial Park from December 31 to January 2.
The Czech was last seen in the Kingdom 14 months ago when he played and lost the final of the farewell edition of the Thailand Open against Canadian Milos Raonic . He touched down on Saturday morning with Czech super model girlfriend Ester Satorova.
"It's really nice to be back. [The exhibition] It's going to be my first event of the new season. Hua Hin is a good place to start the year and to get ready for the new season," said the 2010 Wimbledon finalist who was welcomed at the Suvarnabhumi Airport by tennis chief Suwat Liptapanlop.
Berdych who reached a career highest No 5 in August last year, was the first of the bunch to arrive. World No 8 Raonic , No 10 David Ferrer of Spain, No 19 John Isner of US, No 20 Fabio Fognini of Italy and No 26 Richard Gasquet of France are the remaining players to be engaged in the friendly tournament.
Apart from the friendlies, which will be competed in the knock-out format, the six players are due to participate in many promotional programmes to boost the resort city's tourism.
All players and former world No 9 Paradorn Srichaphan will take a ride on local three-wheel bicycles in a sightseeing activity at the picturesque Hua Hin Railway Station in the morning on December 31 and witness firework display in a countdown party together in the evening.
They will also join the merit-making ceremony on the beach on January 1 .
Raonic, the last ATP Thailand Open champion, will visit the Hua Hin Dog Care Centre, which is under His Majesty the King's patronage, on January 2 while a player will stop by at the Hua Hin Artist Village to present charity money raised from an auction of a painting of the six players drawn by Ajarn Tawee Kesa-ngam.
"I'm looking to celebrate the New Year with my team and my girlfriend and have a good time in Hua Hin," said Berdych, who will play a special match with Thai No 2 Pruchya Isarow on the opening day at 3pm.
Suwat said: "The countdown to the World Tennis Thailand Championship has already started. Berdych was the first to arrive and is the top seed in the tournament with Milos being seeded second. That means, we could have a rematch of last year's Thailand Open final."
The Hua Hun event will be televised live on True 2, True HD670 and Digital TV Channel 24. Tickets at Bt1,500-Bt6,000 can be purchased at Thai Ticket Major, Siam Continental Hua Hin Hotel and all Major Cineplex branches.