BANGKOK — International tennis stars Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic met junta chairman Prayuth Chan-ocha today prior to a match aimed to boost the country’s struggling tourism industry.
Prayuth greeted the celebrity athletes this morning to thank them for a special match to “return happiness to Thai people and foreign tourists,” the latest publicity effort to restore confidence in Thailand’s safety after a bomb attack killed a number of tourists in the heart of Bangkok in August.
"We are very pleased to have world-class tennis players in Thailand," Prayuth said to the pair through an interpreter. "We hope you will help boost confidence."
Both top-ranked Djokovic and 14-time Grand Slam champ Nadal wore traditional Thai silk jackets in a meeting at the Government House with the prime minister, tourism minister and other officials.
Rafael Nadal, at left, with Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha appear today at a trade market near Government House in Bangkok.
Tickets sold out quickly after news spread the pair had been invited to Thailand for tonight’s exhibition match taking place at Bangkok's Hua Mark Indoor Stadium. The event was said to cost 150 million baht, with 84 million baht (USD2.4 million) going to the players, according to Thai PBS.
The match is “a special occasion to show the international community that we are professional at arranging world-class sport competitions and reaffirm to foreigners that Thailand is safe,” said Suwat Liptapanlop, president of the Lawn Tennis Association of Thailand Under His Majesty's Patronage.
Their visit comes a week after Bangkok rolled out the red carpet for two Hong Kong celebs who participated in a media event at the Erawan Shrine. The worst attack of its type in the country's history occurred there on 17 Aug. Fourteen foreign nationals were killed in the blast, the latest in a series of crises to hurt the vital tourism sector.
Djokovic and Nadal also visited the Grand Palace to sign a note wishing wellness for His Majesty the King and later paid respect at the shrine located downtown at Ratchaprasong intersection.
Nadal last visited the country for 2010's Thailand Open, while Djokovic last joined the same tournament in 2008.
Tennis star Rafael Nadal pays his respects to HM the King today at the Grand Palace in Bangkok.
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