Tennis’ hottest sensation; boxing’s poster boy

SPORTS FOR ALL - Philip Ella Juico - The Philippine Star

HONG KONG – The South China Morning Post had Australian Open fourth seed Li Na of China, 31-year old Chinese star in the front page of its Sunday, January 26 issue after she beat the 20th seed Dominika Cibulkova, the diminutive Slovakian, 7-6, 6-0. Li was last year’s and 2011’s runner up but she made sure that this time the title did not slip her grasp.

The headline was in the upper fold of Hong Kong’s only English daily said, “Ace Down Under”, and reflects what many anticipate to be a tennis boom in Asia sparked by the continent’s hottest tennis property. Li is the first Asian to win the Australian Open after being the first Asian to win another grand slam, the French Open in 2011.

One is reminded of similar marketing initiatives in boxing by Top Rank’s Bob Arum, golf tournament organizers and other sports who also see the tremendous purchasing power of China’s population which is starting to benefit from economic reforms.

The front page showed Li Na hoisting the Australian Open trophy (Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup) and describing Li as the winner of two grand slams who turns 32 next month and the oldest champion in Australia in the Open era.

To be sure, there were a lot of uneasy moments for Li who was forced to a tie-breaker by the 24-year old Cibulkova who looked more relaxed than Li. The Chinese understandably felt a bit tense after being bundled out of court by Belgian Kim Clijsters in 2011 and Victoria Azarenka in 2013. Lightning could strike three times. Against Azarenka, Li fell twice in the hard court: first she twisted her ankle and later on was unconscious for several seconds after she hit her head against the hard court.

This time, tennis’ face in Asia, just as Manny Pacquiao is boxing’s poster boy in Asia, made sure that her victory would be emphatic bringing Cibulkova to school in the second set. No doubt, being under the tutelage of Argentine Carlos Rodriguez has paid tremendous dividends for Li who has made at least the quarters of last five grand slams.  Li gave credit to Rodriguez, her agent Max Eisenbud for “making me rich” and husband Shan Jiang “for him giving up everything, just traveling with me to be my hitting partner, fix the drinks, fix the racket.” 

Li’s next stop is the French Open and if things turns out well for her, she’ll be playing a lot younger than her 32 years by the time the Paris tennis festival comes around in May.

As we write this column, eighth seed Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland has just beaten the nearly invincible Rafael Nadal of Spain in four sets.

Back in Manila, we played co-host to three division (IBF lightweight, WBC and WBA super welterweight and The Ring light middleweight) champion Sugar Shane Mosley and his party which included lawyer Sydney Hall; Mountain Province-born, Baguio-bred, Pilipino and Ilocano-speaking business agent Germaine-Gilles Nishihira of Platinum Timing; boxing promoter Dennis Hobson of the UK; and publicist Mario Serrano. The group spent four days in Manila to promote the “Night of Champions”, a boxing –year old funds through world class boxing events for victims of super typhoon Yolanda and other natural calamities.

We first met Mosley and company over breakfast last Wednesday at Fairmont Hotel in Makati. We immediately noted the fellow’s humble demeanor and his accommodating ways with hotel guests who instantly recognized him. People Asia editor Joanne Ramirez and husband Ed were in the dining room relaxing from the rigors of a People Asia event the night before that had President Benigno Aquino III as guest of honor. After a few minutes, the Ramirezes, Mosley and I posed for a couple of photos for posterity.

The next day, Thursday, we had Mosley and his party as guests at Wack Wack Golf and Country Club where a couple of boxing aficionados-club members and their guests and club staff posed for pictures with the former champion. In my and my son Joseph’s conversation with Mosley, he spoke of Manny Pacquiao’s punching power coming from his legs: “Manny has tremendous strength in his legs. He holds his hands waist-high and his punches are propelled by the powerful push from his legs. He has a tendency of lunging at the opponent with tremendous momentum generated by his legs. This is exactly what happened when he was knocked out by Marquez (Juan Manuel). Manny was moving forward and he literally ran into Marquez’s straight. Had Manny not been going forward with such strong momentum, I don’t think he would’ve been knocked out by Marquez.”

On the Pacquiao-Timothy Bradley II which will take place on April 12 in Las Vegas, based on various reports, Mosley thinks that Pacquiao will win the rematch as he thinks the eight-division champion won their fight in June 2012. Mosley said Bradley wastes too much energy moving around needlessly. He adds that Pacquiao’s speed is the most difficult aspect of the Filipinos arsenal to handle: “I could take his punches but he was just too fast.”

Next week, we continue “Game for Life” and the meeting between the Mosley entourage and Jorge (Nene) Araneta of the SMART Araneta Coliseum.










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