With flashlights popping and cameras whirring, “what would you wish for?” was the question posed to four of the Top 10 ranking women’s tennis players as they sat on stage at the Intercontinental Hotel Hua Hin. The players were to give alms to local Buddhists monks the following morning. The press conference emcee wanted to know what their wishes would be after receiving the monk’s blessings. A moments silence ensued as the players were unsure how to answer.

When prompted WTA ranked World No 1 Simona Halep, Karolina Pliskova world number 4, and Johanna Konta ranking 9th all agreed that winning a Grand Slam event was their wish. The fourth player on stage and the youngest, Jelena Ostapenko, currently No 7 in the world, admitted she would love to win another Grand Slam having secured her first, the 2017 French Open, just a few months back.

With the first of the 2018 Grand Slams, The Australian Open (AO), just 3 weeks away, all four players were in Hua Hin for the “Intercontinental World Tennis Thailand Championship 2017”.

Their focus clear – continue their pre-season training to ensure they were ready for Melbourne. They saw the Hua Hin event as an ideal inclusion for their 2018 preparations thanks to True Arena having the same Hard Court plexicushion surface as the Australian Open’s Melbourne Park.

In its eighth year, the “Intercontinental World Tennis Thailand Championship” highlights the international standard tennis facilities Thailand, and specifically, Hua Hin has to offer and was televised live on True nationally and internationally on Tennis Channel USA and Fox Sports Australia to name just two.

After 2 days of competitive tennis, Simona Halep won the “Intercontinental World Tennis Thailand Championship”. The Romanian, faced off with Karolina Pliskova, from the Czech Republic with the final overcome for the two sets (6-2, 6-3). According to WTA statistics, of the six times, these players had met, Halep has won five times, and lost only once. Semi-finals at this year’s French Open Grand Slam Tournament was the last time they met with Simona Halep winning 2 sets to 1 (6-4, 3-6, 6-3).

Speaking at the winner’s presentation ceremony, 25-year-old Halep commented, “Thank you all for the encouragement during these two days and thanks also to the organisers. I’m very pleased to win this championship because the champions here (Intercontinental Thailand Championship Hua Hin) have been very successful in the Australian Open.”

Third and fourth place was fought out between Johanna Konta and Jelena Ostapenko. 26-year-old Konta, from the United Kingdom, had not played competitive tennis since August 2017 due to injury and was looking to get her career back on track.  Jelena Ostapenko, from Latvia, at only 20 years is a rising star, after becoming a Grand Slam champion at the French Open 2017. Both women wanted to start their year in the best way possible. Final scores were (6-3, 6-2) with Johanna Konta taking the win after a very tightly fought match.

The December 23 and 24 tournament were not only about these Top 10 women’s players. Sixty-five local children participated in a coaching clinic with Simona Halep, Johanna Konta and Jelena Ostapenko giving of their time to share tips, guidance and to inspire these young locals to keep working hard at their tennis dreams.

PBI Tennis Academy players based at True Arena also had the opportunity to help Johana Konta and Simona Halep with their pre-season preparations through regular practice sessions in the few days before and after the Championship.

True Arena Tennis Director, Arturo Ng summed up the benefits locally when he explained “The kids got the chance to play with the top players during kid’s clinic.  PBI Academy players learnt how to train with discipline, intensity and purpose on every practice. They also gained more belief in their abilities and motivation to aim for higher career goals. Overall, what a great promotion for tennis in Thailand.”

Tournament organisers also see this event as providing a fantastic opportunity to promote Thailand’s tourism, culture and food.

To this end, players participated in several activities including a Thai Cooking Class with ‘Aunty’ Jay Fai, a Bangkok Street Food icon and newly awarded Michelin starred Chef.  Players also had the opportunity to make merit with Buddhist monks on the second morning of the tournament. Karolina Pliskova noted during the final prizegiving ceremony, “Getting to this tournament is a great preparation for the Australian Open. Over the past few days, I have enjoyed staying in Hua Hin, and my most favourite thing was to offer food to monks and learning about Thai culture.”

At the award ceremony, Mr Suwat Lipatapanlop, former Deputy Prime Minister and Chairman of the Advisory Board of the Asian Tennis Federation (ATF), awarded a 16-inch Red Benjarong plate with a beautiful golden Pikul pattern to Championship winner Simona Halep. Runnerup Karolina Pliskova received a Thai Yellow 14-inch Benjarong bowl with a water-drop pattern.  Both Benjarong plates are unique and distinctly Thailand.  All four world-ranking tennis players also received a memorial painting completed by local artists over the course of the two-day tournament.

As the players made their farewells to Hua Hin and Thailand, off to other lead-up tournaments before the Australian Open, they must be thanked for showcasing their sport and being Champions of their game.  World class players once again making the “InterContinental World Tennis Thailand Championship” an outstanding success!

By Michael Cullen

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