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Garcia caps ITF title the hard way

Diego Dalisay Garcia

MANILA, Philippines - Fil-Spanish tennis prodigy Diego Dalisay Garcia won eight straight matches, including three in the qualifying round, to capture the 21st Tep Khunnah Memorial ITF junior singles title in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, last week and established himself as one of the country’s rising stars along with other teeners AJ Lim, Bryan Otico and Arthur Craig Pantino.

Garcia, 17, disposed of Japan’s Yamato Sueoka, 6-2, 6-1, China’s top seed Ao Shen, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4, in 2 1/2 hours and India’s Aman Patel, 6-2, 6-0 to barge into the 32-man main draw. Then, the Spanish-born Garcia never dropped a set in blasting India’s Vansh Bhagtani, 6-2, 6-1, Japan’s third seed Ryo Watanabe, 6-1, 6-1, China’s eighth seed Sida Zeng, 7-5, 6-0, Japan’s second seed Srivatsa Ratakonda, 6-0, 6-4 and Malaysia’s Takeshi Koey, 6-2, 6-1 for the crown.

In doubles, Garcia teamed up with Filipino Manuel Balce and advanced to the semifinals where they were eliminated by China’s Shen and Zeng, 6-4, 7-6. Overall, Garcia played a total of 11 matches in eight days. He earned his first ITF junior points and first ITF junior singles championship. Garcia is now the fourth highest-ranked Filipino in the ITF junior ladder behind Lim, Otico and Pantino. He is No. 10 in the Philippine Tennis Association (PHILTA) men’s rankings.

“Since Diego had no ITF points, he was lucky to get into the 32-man qualifying round and luckier to make it to the main draw,” said his coach Roland Kraut. “The turning point was his second match in the qualifying round where he beat the tough top seed Shen.”

Garcia’s father Cesar is a Spanish private detective and his mother Angelina Dalisay is a domestic helper from San Nicolas, Batangas. His parents met and married in Spain but are now separated. He is the second of three boys. It was two years ago when the Federacion de Tenis de Madrid, an academy where Garcia trains, contacted Philta to advise that he would visit relatives in the country and inquired about the possibility of playing for the national team in the future.

“At that time, Diego was 15,” said Kraut. “I suggested for Diego to join our Davis Cup training. He arrived last September and stayed up to January this year. Then, he came back last August. He’ll be in Spain for the Christmas holidays from Dec. 12 to the first week of January then he returns here and will stay up to April. Both Diego and his mother have Philippine passports. Diego’s short-term plan is to expose himself to the pro circuit until he finishes high school in two years. He is a scholar in a home-study program with the CIDEAD school in Madrid. After graduation, he could go to university in Spain or the US.”

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While in Manila, Garcia lives with Kraut and his family. “Diego’s the youngest Pinoy to get an ATP point at 16 but unfortunately, due to limited resources, he wasn’t able to compete enough to get more points,” said Kraut. “He wants to do more ITF junior events for exposure. We’re hoping to get support for playing in tournaments around Asia. His plan is to spend half the year in Manila for training and competing in Asian tournaments and half the year in Madrid for studies, more training and more tournaments. There are 39 ITF Men’s Futures tournaments in Spain a year so he’ll be busy for six months in Madrid. In Asia, Diego has to travel more.”

Kraut said Garcia’s hammer-like forehand reminds him of Spain’s former world No. 1 Carlos Moya. “Diego has an all-around game,” said Kraut. “He dominates with his forehand. He can come to the net to volley after a set-up with his forehand. Like a typical Spaniard, he gives importance to fitness so he relies on his endurance, too.”

 Garcia’s dream is to represent the Philippines. “When I met Diego in 2014, I saw that he wasn’t only a talented player but also driven as a competitor,” said Kraut. “His father is unemployed at the moment and provides little support. That’s why I’m supporting him because he has no resources. I’m trying to look for someone who can support him for his travels in competition.”

In Manila, Garcia trains at least two hours on the court, twice a day every other day at the Rizal Memorial or Philippine Columbian or Manila Polo Club. Additionally, he puts in an hour of fitness workouts for endurance on Monday, upper body on Tuesday, sprints on Wednesday, lower body on Thursday and bands on Friday. Garcia usually trains with the La Salle varsity and the national junior players, both under Kraut.

“With my situation, I can’t target goals for a long time,” said Garcia. “I just try to play my best in every game, do everything I can every time. My coach (Kraut) helps me in everything from schedules to training with the best players. My tennis idol is Roger Federer because he’s so talented and I love the way he plays. My strength is my forehand and my weakness is my body fitness which I need to improve on for my physical conditioning.”

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