By Patrick Johnston
SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Thai trailblazer Tamarine Tanasugarn is well prepared for life after tennis having completed a law degree but retirement talk remains on hold while the 38-year-old chases more success on the court rather than in one.
After more than two decades on tour, her grand slam appearances have receded but the California-born Thai is a central figure in the country's Southeast Asian Games party looking to sweep the tennis medals in Singapore from June 5-16.
Tamarine is already a SEA Games champion, having won the women's doubles titles at home in 2007 and in Laos two years later. She was denied the chance to complete a hat-trick when Myanmar scrapped tennis from the 2013 Games because of a lack of facilities before Singapore restored it to the program.
"We aim to take home at least four gold medals. Indeed, we could sweep all seven gold medals," team manager Vichate Teepakakorn told the Bangkok Post last month.
"We will first try to win the men's and women's team events as this will boost our players' confidence in remaining events."
In Tamarine, the Thais have an inspirational leader able to rouse belief and confidence.
The winner of four WTA singles titles and eight doubles, two with Maria Sharapova in 2003, Tamarine has mixed it with the best in the world and her numerous records make her a darling of Thai fans.
Her best singles achievement in the majors was reaching the quarter-finals of Wimbledon in 2008, where she lost to eventual champion Venus Williams. In 2011, she made the semis of the women's doubles at the U.S. Open after teaming up with New Zealander Marina Erakovic.
Her last grand slam appearance was at the 2014 Australian Open where she and partner Zheng Saisai of China were beaten in the first round of the women's doubles but recent success has come in Fed Cup matches and challenger events.
She now sits at 255 in the world rankings, some way down of her career high of 19 in 2002, but still has the ability to compete with regional rivals.
In September, she teamed up with Luksika Kumkhum to win the Asia Games women's doubles gold medal in Incheon, South Korea and was subsequently named Thai women's athlete of the year.
That success led to her ponder the prospect of securing a Thai record fifth Olympic appearance at Rio de Janeiro 20 years after her first in Atlanta, but her lowly ranking makes that an unlikely proposition.
That does not mean Tamarine, who was taught thee game by her Olympic basketball playing father, will not be trying to secure a seat on the plane to Brazil.
"At my age, it is not easy but I will give all I can," she told the Bangkok Post earlier this year.
"I am really in good shape this year and I do not have any plan to retire in the near future."
(Editing by John O'Brien)