When Mananchaya Sawangkaew was four years old, she accompanied her father and sister to a tennis court in Sing Buri province and enjoyed watching them play. She even enjoyed helping them to pick up the balls and so began her love affair with the sport.
Eleven years later, the diminutive teenager – she stands just 1.63m tall and weighs a mere 52kg – won her first ITF title on Saturday, surviving three match points against top seed and last week’s winner Bunyawi Thamachaiwat to win the final of the US$15,000 Cal-Comp and XZY Printing ITF Pro Circuit week 2 in Hua Hin.
Although the match did not end the way the 15-year-old girl hoped it would – Thai No 4 Bunyawi, ranked 491st in the world, had to retire at 6-1 6-7 (3-7) 1-2 with cramps on her left calf – she couldn’t help feeling overwhelmed by her maiden ITF victory.
Mananchaya, or “Mai” as she is known by her family and friends, was in her first ITF Pro Circuit final but she did not hesitate to capitalise on her opportunity, despite wearing tape to protect an injured right knee and left ankle.
“I didn’t want to withdraw as it was my first time in the final. I wanted to take a chance,” said one of the youngest Thai winners on the Pro Circuit in many years.
Even when she faced three match points at 5-6 in the second set, she still believed she had a chance.
“I knew if I held that game and went into the tie-break, it would affect her concentration and I could turn the tide,” she added.
Growing up in admiration for current world No 1 Simona Halep, Mananchaya said she had to overcome her physical weakness and find ways to become stronger in order to achieve her goal of cracking the world’s top 50.
“I spent a lot of time in hospital as a kid because of hayfever,” said the girl who still regards Halep as her idol as the Romanian is also small in stature.
“I still get sick easily but it’s getting a lot better. That’s why I’m a bit small but I’m trying to adjust a new training programme to suit my condition.”
Despite the disadvantage, Mananchaya has a fine all-round game and a good sense of shot selection for someone her age. If she maintains her tactical and physical improvement she could become a force to be reckoned with on the WTA tour in a few years.
“I’m still young and still have a long way to go,” she concluded.” My focus is on a daily basis and I hope all the hard work will pay off one day.”