Thank you Manila! Tennis stars hope to be back

Alder Almo - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - From Serena Williams screaming her lungs out after winning a point in her match against Samantha Stosur and Milos Raonic grinning widely following a stunning victory over Rafael Nadal, to the whole Philippine Mavericks team taking a selfie together, the atmosphere inside the Mall of Asia Arena was electric.

There was a sense of belonging. The players felt truly honored to play in front of a crowd that cheered their every move.

“It’s amazing. As the home team, it was an honor to compete here,” said the 24-year-old Canadian Raonic after clinching the win for the Mavericks against one of the greatest players of all time.

The Mavericks completed a sweep of their home stand on Tuesday night after pulling off a thrilling 25-24 victory against the erstwhile unbeaten Indian Aces to move up to 4 wins and one loss, but still trail the Aces for the top spot with a match on hand. The Aces still occupy the top spot despite suffering their first loss in the Coca-Cola International Premier Tennis League Season 2 with a higher winning percentage (54.4 percent) compared to the Mavericks (53.7 percent). But now, the Aces’ cloak of invincibility has been dismantled despite the presence of Nadal, a 14-time Grand Slam winner.

Unlike last season, the Mavericks now have a more balanced lineup, beefed up by the presence of Raonic and Williams. Local hero Treat Huey is benefiting from this tournament, learning from the biggest names in the sport and at the same time helping grow the sport in the country.

“It’s been wonderful playing with some of the best players in the world. When I played with Serena in Kobe, the first match I was a bit nervous. But then we won all our games there, we played really well, I loosened up a bit, and we got off to a great start here in Manila too,” Huey said.

“I’ve really enjoyed playing with her, and it’s great to have a partner like Serena on your side of the court. In the next few days, I’m looking forward to playing with and against some of the other bigger players. It’s great for me, and a terrific learning for my game.”

Mavericks captain Mark Philippoussis has provided the veteran presence and leadership. “We have a great captain in Mark, picking his player rotation the way he did, starting out in exceptional fashion winning the opening set each time, which was very motivating,” Raonic said.

Philippoussis has been the best Legends player in the first two legs of the five-city tour, winning all of his five matches against fellow legends Carlos Moya, Marat Safin, Goran Ivanisevic, Thomas Enqvist and Fabrice Santoro.

Williams did not want to leave the team and end the Manila leg with a loss. The world no. 1 women’s player came back from a tough loss she suffered with Huey in the mixed doubles play to tie the match at 19 games apiece with a 6-3 win against Stosur.

“It was fun, our team really needed some games so I tried,” Williams said of her victory that saw her regain her top form after that mixed doubles loss.

“Last year, I was here and I really had fun. The crowd was amazing. Next year, I hope to be back again and play in front of this great crowd,” said Williams to the roaring approval of the home crowd that packed the MOA Arena.

For a first-timer, Raonic quickly endeared himself to the fans with his lightning quick and powerful serves and fancy shot making on top of his boy-next-door looks.

“It is exciting to play the way we did all three nights in front of home fans, winning all our matches here,” said Raonic, who dished out the best play in the tournament so far with that behind-the-back trick shot on Day 1 against Tomas Berdych of the UAE Royals. “It’s a great format, very audience-friendly and TV-friendly; we have a great atmosphere in the team, and we’re looking forward to taking this winning streak into the next leg,” Raonic added.

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