The WTA Thailand Open 2019 happened 28 January to February 3 at Hua Hin’s True Arena sports complex. What a week it was and what a great addition to Hua Hin’s annual calendar of events.
True Arena has hosted international tennis previously. Exhibition matches with stars like Simona Halep, Jelena Ostapenko, and Johanna Konta just last year, and megastars like Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic in previous years.
The WTA Thailand Open 2019 was all about the upcoming stars – players in the top 100 rankings. Many coming directly from the Australian Open, the first Grand Slam event on the tennis calendar, held in January every year.
Stand-out in the field of players for the Hua Hin event were Garbiñe Muguruza from Spain with an international ranking of 18. Caroline Garcia from France (19), Hsieh Su-wei from Taiwan (29), and Chinese Tibetan Zheng Saisai (39). China’s Zhang Shuai (40) who partnered with Australian Sam Stosur won the 2019 Women’s Australian Open Doubles Championship was also on the card. Sabine Lisicki (former no. 12) who is coming back from injuries and Peng Shuai from China (former No 1 Double champion) were also expected to challenge for the end of week places. Luksika Khumkum, Thailand’s No. 1 female tennis player who advanced to the 3rd round of Australian Open this year will also be competing.
With 32 players in total, the Singles and Doubles competition was fought out over seven days with surprises throughout the week. Caroline Garcia and Sabine Lisicki were out early and Australian Open Doubles Champion Zhang Shuai having to pull out due to fatigue. Unfortunately, local Thai hope Luksika Khumkum who came up against Zhang Shuai in her first round match also exited.
The tournament proved to be a testing event with some of the lesser ranked player shining through at the expense of the top seeds.
In the singles, top seed Garbiñe Muguruza having not lost a set leading into the semi-finals was bundled out by 18-year-old Ukrainian Dayana Yastremska. Australian Ajla Tomljanovic also dispensed with the tournaments No 3 ranked player Zheng Saisai in the semi-finals. Poland’s Magda Linette made it through to the quarterfinals as did Switzerland’s Viktorijan Golubic, and Slovakia’s Tamara Zidansek.
After hard-fought quarterfinals, the Singles title came down to the youngest player, Ukrainian Dayana Yastremska, against Australian Ajla Tomljanovic and what a tense and seesawing final it was. After 3 tight sets, 18-year-old Yastremska won her second-ever WTA Title, having won in Hong Kong in October 2018. The Single winner takes home USD 43,000 while the losing finalist receives $21,400.
In the Doubles, Romanian pairing of Irina-Carmelia and Monica Niculescu took the title and with that prize money USD 12,330 each. Total prize money pool for this WTA Thailand Open was USD 250,000.
For the last few years this international Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) event has happened in Taipei, Taiwan, and until 2015, Pattaya Thailand was home for this event.
Although these tournaments are definitely about the competition, cultural exchange and highlighting Thai life are also a significant element of the week’s activities.
Former world No 14, Peng Shuai and fellow Chinese players Duan Yingying and Wang Yafan took a Thai cooking class as part of the lead-up to the event. Renowned Amporn Chueng-ngam, who made her name in the TV programme “Iron Chef” taught the players, who all have a love for Thai food, how to make “Tom Yum Koong” (Spicy Prawn Soup).
On the Sunday before the tournament’s first day of play, Garbiñe Muguruza and Peng Shuai also took some time away from Thailand Open duties to take part in a making merit ceremony with local Buddhist monks on Hua Hin’s main beach.
One hundred local kids also benefited from having these women tennis stars in town with a Tennis Clinic held on the weekend before the tournament. With the clinic and the competition itself, organisers are hoping one of the many benefits of the event is to foster future Thai stars of the game and encouraging them to work hard, as their mentors have, to realise their tennis dreams.
If the size of the crowds watching this world-class tennis over the week of play, and in particular the full house for the quarters and finals is a gauge, the WTA Thailand Open 2019 has been a great success, and perhaps, an indicator of continued success in the years to come.
By Michael Cullen