Philippine tennis future bright with pool of young aces

Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - August 5, 2015 - 10:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Despite failing to move up to Group I in the Asia-Oceania Davis Cup zone, the Philippines faces a bright future in tennis as the pool of talent widens with more young stars and Fil-Ams ready to follow in Cecil Mamiit’s footsteps.

“We’ve been stuck in Group II for four years now,” said Philippine Tennis Association vice president Randy Villanueva. “But we’re hoping to advance next year. We’ve got Nino Alcantara and Jeson Patrombon who were both ranked in the world top 20 juniors once. Treat Huey and Ruben Gonzales are 29 and they’ll continue to play Davis Cup for many more years. They’re world-class doubles players. Then, there’s Fil-Am Raymond Sarmiento of the University of Southern California. AJ Lim is only 16 and recently made it to the main draw at the Wimbledon juniors.”

Huey is a Fil-Am like Mamiit who anchored the Philippine Davis Cup team from 2006 to 2011 and collected four gold, six silver and five bronze medals in four Southeast Asian Games from 2005 to 2011. Mamiit, 39, has retired from active competition.

Villanueva said to give more exposure to local players, two ITF Futures tournaments will be held in Manila this October with ATP points and prize money at stake. The first will be staged at the Valle Verde courts on Oct. 5-11 and the second will be the men’s event of the PCA Open on Oct. 12-17. Each tournament will offer a pot of $15,000.

“We’re budgeting $40,000 for each ITF Futures tournament,” said Villanueva. “It’s an opportunity for our players to test international competition and gain ATP points. Exposure is important. Look at Australia’s Nick Kyrgios. In 2011, Kyrgios lost to Jeson, 6-3, 3-6, 6-4, at the Mitsubishi Juniors but because of constant exposure, he is now ranked world No. 25 with wins over Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. When Nino and Jeson were ranked in the world top 20 juniors, they would’ve been given opportunities to play in the Grand Slam if they were from Australia, the US or Japan. Jeson is only 22. He used to be with the Tennis Academy Foundation of Romy Jalosjos and Manny Tecson but now he’s based in Taiwan, supported by the Taiwan academy with a French coach. He’s the only ATP ranked singles player in our Davis Cup team.”

Last month, the Philippines lost, 3-1, to Chinese- Taipei in the second round of the Asia-Oceania Group II Davis Cup in Kaohsiung. Patrombon buckled under pressure to lose to Jui Chen Hung, 6-2, 6-2, 6-1, in the opening singles then world No. 61 Lu Yen Hsun disposed of P. J. Tierro, 6-2, 6-2, 6-1. Huey and Gonzales teamed up to take the doubles match, 6-3, 7-6 (4), 7-6 (3). Then, Lu settled the issue with a 6-2, 6-2, 6-4 win over Gonzales.

Non-playing captain Roland Kraut said the Philippines’ chances hinged on winning the first singles. “We didn’t want to play Lu first,” he said. “In the draw, we got what we wanted in playing Jui ahead. We knew it would be difficult to beat Lu who’s back to playing Davis Cup because it’s a requirement to represent your country twice before qualifying for the Olympics next year. We were confident of winning the first singles and the doubles so we planned to take it to a decisive fifth match where Treat would play Jui. Jeson knew how important his first match was but he couldn’t get going. I was surprised that he didn’t play his usual game. That set us back.”

In the reverse singles, rain stopped the match between Lu and Gonzales at deuce in the first game of the first set. Organizers then decided to transfer to an indoor school gym two hours away by car. “Lu isn’t used to playing under less than Class A conditions and we expected him to get pissed with the slippery hardcourt,” said Villanueva. “If only the rains came before the match started, we could’ve decided to play Treat instead. Ruben played well but Lu was just too good even if he kept complaining about the surface. Chinese-Taipei will play Pakistan for the right to advance to Group I.”

The Philippines will remain in Group II with Indonesia, Kuwait, Sri Lanka, the Chinese-Taipei- Pakistan loser and the loser of the Group I relegation match between Thailand and China. Before facing Chinese-Taipei, the Philippines blanked Sri Lanka, 5-0, with Tierro, Gonzales, Huey and Alcantara. Patrombon joined the tie against Chinese-Taipei as Alcantara begged off to complete his units for graduation at Pepperdine University.

It was the third straight loss by the Philippines to Chinese-Taipei in Davis Cup dating back to 2010 and 2011. The Philippines previously beat Chinese- Taipei in 1976, 1993, 1996 and 1998. The Philippines is ranked No. 53 of 130 countries in the Davis Cup.

Villanueva also said the WTA will invite two Filipina players to compete in the U14 and U16 events in Singapore for the second straight year on Oct. 25-Nov. 1. The U14 and U16 events or the WTA Future Stars will be played as a side attraction to the WTA Finals featuring the world’s top eight women players. Last year, the Philippines was represented by Monica Cruz in the U14 and Rafaella Villanueva in the U16. Serena Williams won the WTA Finals crown. The cast included Maria Sharapova, Simona Halep, Carla Suarez Navarro and Karolina Pliskova.

WTA Finals tournament director and WTA Asia Pacific vice president Melissa Pine arrived in Manila yesterday with a team of four, including retired Fil-Am player Mark Clemente. The WTA team will conduct a one-hour free tennis clinic at Valle Verde today.

“The WTA is one of the biggest tennis leagues in the world,” said Villanueva. “The WTA Finals is the culmination of the tennis season where the top eight players compete for the championship in a round-robin tournament. It also has a tournament for the top eight doubles teams. Last year, Monica and Rafa had an unforgettable experience. They got to play foreign competition and also met the stars. Rafa brought home a racket signed by Serena.”

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