Waiting for Mamiit

- Joaquin M. Henson () - November 14, 2002 - 12:00am
What Paradorn Srichapan is to Thailand, Cecil Mamiit could be for the Philippines. But whether the crack 5-8, 150-pound, Los Angeles-born tennis whiz–ranked No. 95 in the world, will ever play for the country of his descent is a big question that has financial implications.

Mamiit, 26, was once ranked No. 72 and holds wins over Andre Agassi, Michael Chang, Mark Woodforde, Max Mirnyi and Sjeng Schalken. He is one of only four collegiate freshmen ever to win the US National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) title. The others were Billy Martin, John McEnroe, and Jimmy Connors–no doubt, an elite cast. At the University of Southern California, Mamiit racked up an amazing record of 44 wins in 50 matches.

A karate black belter, Mamiit learned the tricks of the tennis trade as a practice player for Boris Becker, Monica Seles, Mary Pierce and Chang. It was Becker who influenced Mamiit’s powerful serve and volley game. Mamiit was only 17 when he was recruited to join Becker as a practice player on tour. Mamiit eventually turned pro in 1997 and continues to tour the circuit.

In 1998, Mamiit blew into town to compete in an International Tennis Federation (ITF) futures satellite tournament. Citing a shoulder injury, he was bundled out of the singles tilt but teamed with another Fil-Am Eric Taino of Los Angeles to capture the doubles crown. That trip to Manila was Mamiit’s second in his life. When he was eight, his parents brought him home to discover his roots.

Mamiit is a full-blooded Filipino. His father Cesar, 54, is from Alaminos, Laguna, and mother Lisa, 58, is from Sariaya, Quezon.

Growing up in Los Angeles, Mamiit used to play Filipino veterans in the park. Alex Marcial and Johnny Jose, former Davis Cuppers, gave Mamiit his early lessons in the game. He began playing tennis when he was six and often rallied with his cousins.

Former Philippine No. 1 junior player Randy Villanueva, who played on two University of Santo Tomas champion teams in the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP), recently came across Mamiit at the Salem Open in Hong Kong.

Villanueva, 27, is currently involved in promoting the three-week-long Philippine Columbian Association (PCA) Open which, for the first time ever, features a 10-18 year old juniors event, an interclub competition, and an invitational meet to assemble the top four UAAP and NCAA teams. The Open ends on Nov. 26.

Tennis has been in Villanueva’s consciousness since he started playing seriously at the age of eight.

Villanueva shared the highlights of his interview in The STAR.

Mamiit told Villanueva it would take about $80,000 for him to consider playing in the Davis Cup, the Southeast Asian Games, the Asian Games, and perhaps the Olympics for the Philippines.

"If I switch over to the Philippines, I would lose my coaching, sponsored by the United States Tennis Association, which will be basically multiplied by two, so we have about $80,000 to spend for my coach and myself," he said. "When I went to the Philippines, I saw how big the support was for basketball and I think with the resources that you have with two great players in me and Eric (Taino), we can make an impact for the Philippines worldwide and put the Philippines in the map probably like what Paradorn has done for Thailand and I think it would be a great investment for whoever it is who will support tennis."

Mamiit said he often dreams of playing for the Philippines. "I had numerous thoughts of playing in the Davis Cup for the Philippines or even just going back and supporting some sort of program to help out and do normal visits because I just want to give something back," he continued. "Right now, I’m considered part of the US but when I’m playing on tour, I’m pretty much representing both countries as far as being a Fil-Am is concerned. I hope the fans know that every win I have is partly for the Philippines, too."

Asked if he feels more American than Filipino, Mamiit replied, "It’s hard to say. Maybe, I’m more of an American because I was born and raised there but in my heart, I still keep to the culture of being a Filipino. I’m in tune with Filipino culture. When I was in college, I joined a club which was a Fil-Am kind of a deal and we shared our moments and experiences being a Fil-Am. I never shied away from my heritage and I try to keep it as close as possible."

What about Filipino food? Mamiit said when he was a boy, he gorged on dinuguan. Then he learned how to cook adobo and feasted on ginataan.

Mamiit said he has stopped playing with Taino but didn’t rule out a reunion.

"Eric’s more successful in doubles," said Mamiit. "He’s a very talented player. He’s lefthanded. I grew up with him. We trained with each other since I was 15. Eric is in a higher level in doubles so his ranking was about top 60 and it was difficult to par with him cause I’m ranked about top 300 and I can’t blame him if he decides to pick a higher-ranked player to get into a tournament. We went to the same tennis academy in Florida. That’s how we grew to know each other."

Mamiit said he’s excited to play for the Philippines if it can be arranged. "I’ll be more of an impact now and hopefully, more of the headlines and people will start noticing," he added. "People are calling me back to the Philippines. The financial issue is a problem. It wasn’t easy to develop my game without the USTA support and to actually get to where I am, obviously, there was a lot of dedication and a lot of hard work especially from my parents and I felt like if I play Davis Cup, I would enjoy playing for the Philippines but it would also be for the right reason, for all the hard work that I would do. I’ll make it worth it and obviously, I would contribute back and develop a program to develop the game in the country."

As for his advice to young Filipino players, Mamiit said:

"There is no secret to becoming a Cecil Mamiit," he mentioned. "It’s just a matter of enjoying the game and of course, doing a lot of hard work. For me, it’s a unique sport because you get to create your own style and it’s individual and very unique in so many ways. For me, I’m just trying my best in tennis."

Will Mamiit ever play for the Philippines? Is $80,000 too hefty a price for Mamiit?

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