The Swiss not named Roger

When you’re asked to name a champion from Switzerland who plays right-handed and swings that backhand with one arm, chances are your answer will be Roger Federer. And why not? With 17 major trophies that adorn his palatial home with wife Mirka and their two sets of twins (two girls and two boys), when you combine the words “Swiss” and “tennis,” it’s almost always two initials: RF.

Well, not last Sunday. Not when the Serbian world number one named Novak Djokovic was ready to be crowned champion but lost. Novak was on a 28-match winning streak. He hadn’t lost the entire clay court season, winning in Monte Carlo and Rome. In the quarterfinals of the French Open, he embarrassed the 9-time champion Rafael Nadal. Two afternoons later, he met Andy Murray and defeated the Scot in five sets. The only piece of shiny hardware missing from his collection was the one they don’t sell in Paris. Because you have to earn a Roland Garros trophy.

Facing Stanislas Wawrinka in the finals two days ago, Djokovic won the first set. He was 90 minutes and just two sets away from completing a career Grand Slam. Until Stan concocted a mix of powerful Federer-like winners that bewildered Novak. At day’s end, it was a lopsided display of power tennis: While Novak connected on 30 winners, Stan smothered 60.

This wasn’t the first time that Wawrinka was seeded 8th and expected to lose in the championship round. In January of last year, he was such a sure-to-be runner-up that Nadal fans already dreamt of their Spanish maestro winning the Australian Open. Stan stunned Rafa in four sets.

Last Sunday was a replica: he was No. 8 facing No. 1 with the top-seed an almost-undefeated player this 2015. The result? The same shocker: Stan stuns Novak in four.

I got to see the Swiss the other week. After his match against Dusan Lajovic, I entered the press room and was seated on the third row, about 15 feet away from the small stage arranged with one seat ready. Stan enters the room with no fuss. He’s no mega-star in Paris like a Jo-Wilfried Tsonga or a Gael Monfils. In fact, en route to winning seven matches to win Roland Garros, he had to endure beating two Frenchmen and was often derided and booed by the partisan Parisians who longed for their own to triumph.

During the press conference, Stan was relaxed. First, he took questions in English. With zero emotion, he spoke. I don’t even remember what he talked about. He next spoke in French. Samot! I couldn’t understand his fluent French as the mediamen peppered him with queries.

Midway through his interview, I pulled out my phone and snapped a shot. I was quickly approached by a coordinator and told that taking photos was disallowed. Ooops. I didn’t know. I was asked to delete the picture.

Moments after the non-dramatic Q & A, he stood up and walked out of the room — which wasn’t filled to capacity.

Then, as Stan exited, a different atmosphere ensued. The mediamen entered quickly and sat on every available chair. There was a high-strung mood. I soon found out why: like a movie star would enter a hushed room, Mr. Federer gallantly strides inside. There are no claps, obviously; this wasn’t a meet-and-greet with the Roger Federer Fans Club. These were unbiased ladies and gentlemen. But you can’t help the added buzz when he sits across you, face to face.

Ever the gentleman, Roger is polite and respectful. He takes much longer because of more questions.

This happened on Day 3 of the two-week long tournament. And, if you had a crystal ball and predicted that a Swiss would win the men’s title, it wouldn’t have been so surprising. Roger is acknowledged as the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time).

Only this time, the Swiss isn’t Roger. It’s a Swiss who, last year in Paris, lost in the first round and who, entering the finals last Sunday, previously lost 17 of 20 to Novak.

Never mind him wearing the funniest pair of boxer-like shorts, it’s “Stan The Man.”

NBA Finals: A Preview

Ace sports journalist Jonas Panerio of CDN, legendary coach (and Provincial Board Member) Yayoy Alcoseba and businessman Mark Garcia provide commentary on the NBA Finals…

JONAS PANERIO. How would thee Warriors claim thy NBA title? Let me count the ways: While it’s true that the Warriors players lack NBA Finals experience, they have passed a battery of tests in the mighty Western Conference, which includes beating future MVP Anthony Davis, “outhustling” the grit-and-grind Memphis Grizzlies before completing a “gentleman’s sweep” of the Houston Rockets. Along the way, the Warriors have laid taste to the who’s-who of the All-NBA First Team – Davis, Marc Gasol and James Harden. The Warriors have proven without a doubt that they can emerge victorious in whichever way possible – be it a slow-down, low-scoring affair, a fast-paced shootout and everything in between.

In comparison, Cleveland dispatched of a sub-500 Celtics squad, a Bulls team that forgot how to play basketball and a Hawks team that while willing, did not have the manpower needed to make Cleveland sweat.

Let’s get this out of the way: LeBron James is the best player drawing breath on the planet right now. But as Warriors forward Draymond Green so succinctly pointed out, “He is not god.” The Warriors will trust on their disciplined defense, not to mention their platoon of like-sized, long-limbed wings in Andre Iguodala, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, Shaun Livingston and of course, First Team All-Defense Green to keep the “King” at bay. If all else fails, there’s always NBA 2nd Team All-Defense member Andrew Bogut as the Warriors last line of defense.

In contrast, who will Cleveland assign to defend the reigning league MVP, Steph Curry? The choices don’t offer much in the way of answers. A less-than 100% Kyrie Irving defending the cat-quick Curry will prove to be disastrous. Okay, so place Iman Shumpert on Curry then. But where does that leave Irving? Against the larger Thompson and Barnes? Get the picture now?

And finally, the Warriors have a rocking, uber-loud arena to call home. It’s not fondly called the “Roaracle” for no reason at all. The Warriors are 7-1 at Oracle Arena in the Playoffs and the Cavs will soon find out how tough it is to come away with a victory there. Come to think of it, only three teams have won at Oracle this season. Three.

YAYOY ALCOSEBA. I tip my hat to LeBron James; going to the Finals five straight times is no easy task. I think Cleveland will take the championship. No disrespect to Golden State, who is equally up to to the task. But for me being a coach for the longest time, having experience will play a crucial role in winning the championship. I don’t have to explain the championship pedigree LeBron brings to table. The Xs and Os is there but at the end of the day it’s the team who wants it more. The team who controls the rebounds will win the championship. Every position in this type of game is crucial. More rebounds, more positions.

MARK GARCIA. This year’s Finals will have all the intrigue since it will be a matchup of the current MVP vs the 4-time MVP. It will be interesting to see how Curry performs in the biggest stage as well as how LeBron would respond especially after last year’s loss to the Spurs. Both teams are on a roll heading to the Finals. The Warriors would rely on their high-powered motion offense and lock down defense while the Cavs will rely on their much-improved playoff defense, LeBron’s post up game and passing ability.

It will be interesting who the Warriors would use to defend LeBron as well as who the Cavs will use to defend Curry and Thompson. Will the Warriors double LeBron in the post to force him to pass out to other guys for the open shot? Or would they play LeBron one on one and won’t mind letting him score 40 to 50 points as long as the other Cavs players aren’t involved in the game?

Will a jump-shooting team like the Warriors finally win a championship? Can the Cavs win it by isolating LeBron all game long? Will LeBron’s experience put the Cavs over the top?

In the end, I think that the Warriors motion offense, outside shooting, fast break game, bench play, and multiple LeBron defenders (Barnes, Iguodala, Green) would overwhelm the Cavs. I pick the Warriors to win it in 6 but I would never count out the Cavs just because they have LeBron who, together with Kobe and Curry, are my favorite NBA players to watch.

Sightseeing with Jana

PARIS — One item that I never fail to carry each time I travel is my pair of Asics Gel Kayano 19 shoes. Almost every morning during our European sojourn here, I get up earlier than the two girls; I lace my shoes, sip a cup of jolt-awakening coffee and I’m speeding out of the hotel door.

A few mornings ago was different. That’s because I was paired with a running buddy: my only child Jana. Jasmin was supposed to join our trio but she woke up feeling not too well. And so it was a father-and-daughter date along the romantic streets of this most romantic city.

Starting near the Opera district where we’re housed, we slow-walked to stretch our cold muscles until our steps turned into a relaxed jog.

Prior to our trip, we had planned to go sightseeing via running. And so Jana was fully-equipped: wearing her pink Nike shoes, she wore 2XU compression tights and snapped-on a Garmin 15 GPS watch to track our distance.

In many of the quaint side streets here, you’ll be stepping on cobblestones and brick-layered floor. Watching your steps for uneven bricks is part of the challenge. And while Paris is one of our planet’s most luxurious of cities, home to iconic art galleries and fashionable people, the streets are often littered with trash and cigarette butts. It was part of the maze, zigzagging to avoid the obstacles.

As Jana and I exited the narrow alleys, we soon arrived at a majestic building: The Louvre. Jogging beside this incredible structure — with 10 million visitors each year — was surreal.

The next stop was refreshing: the Seine River. It cuts across the heart of Paris and snakes through the city. We climbed the bridge to inhale the cold wind that cooled our heating bodies. It was 14C degrees. This is the beauty of running with this aircon-like temperature that envelopes this continent. You don’t tire easily. That’s why you’ll notice hundreds of slim-figured people doing the same forward-movement activity.

I brought along my phone and with the help of Google Maps (the most important App in any travel), we traversed through the Jardin des Tuileries. This historic open space built in 1667 is awash with gardens (“Jardin”), fountains, forest-like trees, picnic grounds. From the Louvre to the Place de la Concorde, we sprinted a straight path on soft clay and pebbles.

We did not run nonstop. The intersections provided the mini-stops to relax. They forced us to look around 360 degrees each time we arrived, gazing at these monuments where Napoleon Bonaparte once walked.

Continuing our journey, we headed north-west to trek along possibly the most famous street anywhere: the Champs Elysees. It’s not flat but a steady incline. At 8:30 in the morning, the shops were still closed, including the seven-story flagship store of Louis Vuitton.

Thirsting for water, we found a store and bought a bottle for 2 Euro. That’s expensive. A tiny bottle for over P100. The price you pay in Champs Elysees.

At the top of the 1.9-km. avenue stood another stunning masterpiece. It’s the Arc de Triomphe. It stands erect at the center of a rotunda — imagine a giant-size Fuente Osmeña — with 12 outer roads that lead throughout the city. Pausing to recharge our legs after the climb, Jana and I stood in amazement.

We plotted our next move: We ran along Avenue George V. It was a welcome downhill drive, running past the Four Seasons Hotel and the Crazy Horse cabaret stop. We emerged back to La Seine and coasted along the riverside.

Then we heard sirens and police cars. Thinking that there was some operation on-going (maybe they were trying to catch a thief), we continued our hike. At the end of the bend, a policeman approached us and, upon closer inspection, said in classic French accent, “You are not a suz-pect!”

Whew! We were relieved. Only later did we realize the truth: There was a race going on and, not wearing race bibs, we were ushered into a different road.

Finally, as the Garmin watch showed 8.0 (kms.), Jana and I stopped. We high-fived, smiled, snapped a photo and looked up. Ahh, the Eiffel Tower.

9 thoughts on the French Open

PARIS — My daily trips riding the Metro and disembarking on Michel-Ange-Molitor to walk 1,100 meters before entering Stade Roland Garros have come to an end. Here are some thoughts on the only Grand Slam event played on clay:

1) If you want a sampling of the same red clay in Paris, there’s one in Cebu. It’s called CitiGreen Tennis Resort and it’s found in Labangon. Operated by Jade Abangan and her team, which includes the Siso siblings (Niño and Em-Em), the two red-clay courts in CitiGreen resemble RG. Both possess the same color. Both are slippery and have sand at the surface. For those who have yet to visit CitiGreen, you must. What’s better in Cebu than in Paris? CitiGreen is indoor.

2) Yesterday, I focused on the power game in men’s tennis. Boom-boom, bang, smash! It’s all about obliterating that ball as hard as one’s muscles could. Well, that’s true. But you know what tactic I’ve also observed here? Finesse. And nobody employs this one-two, power-and-finesse manuever than the world no. 1 Novak Djokovic. It’s called the drop shot. And on clay, it’s essential. Because players stand so far behind the baseline (because of the looping topspin), the occasional drop shot is essential. Djokovic has been using this surprise often. It has worked.

3) How much money does the champion earn? First, you have to win seven times. From the first round until the Finals, you play seven times. The prize: 1.8 million Euro. Multiplied by P50 to a Euro, that’s P90 million. That’s a lot of pesos. (But compared to Pacman’s earnings in Las Vegas, the RG champ, after two weeks of hard-hitting work, his take-home pay is miniscule.) The men and the women receive the same reward — even though the men play 3 out of 5 and the girls play only 2 out of 3. It’s called equal rights. A rightful decision.

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4) Did the French invent the game of tennis? Based on my research, it’s possible that the word “tennis” was derived from “tenez.” That’s a French word for “hold” or “take, receive,” which might mean getting ready before one receives the serve.

5) Roland Garros, now on its 114th edition, is the most difficult tennis tournament to win. All matches are best of five. Many turn into marathons, at times running past four hours. The reason: clay-court tennis is tedious. Unlike Wimbledon’s grass or the US and Australian Opens which have fast hard-court surfaces, clay dampens the ball’s speed. That’s why you’ll see back and forth rallies lasting 24 or more shots. It’s physical. It’s sweat-inducing. It’s the most excruciating tenez event.

6) How expensive are the RG tickets? Surprisingly, they’re not overly pricey. During the first days of the week (the best time to visit a Grand Slam), when all the side courts are filled with top names, an Outside Pass entry costs 30 Euro. That’s about P1,500. Not bad for an 11 a.m.-until-8 p.m. stay. For the Philippe Chatrier (center court) tickets, they go for around 60 Euro in the early days. That’s P3,000. Expensive? Sure. But this is a Grand Slam event. For a once-in-a-lifetime experience, it’s worth saving-up for. Of course, when you go to the later rounds (semis and finals), they’re exorbitant: as high as 948 Euro.

7)  Tennis is an outdoor sport but RG has followed the route of Wimbledon and the Australian Open by their plan to install a retractable roof on their center court. This is expected to be finished in 2019. The weather here is erratic. One hour it’s sunny; the next it’s cloudy and drops of cold rain sprinkle the 19 degrees air. The French Tennis Federation is also adding another show (covered) court, all targeted for completion in four years.

8) What’s the food like here in Paris? Bread, pan, baguette, croissant, Pain au lait. I miss our garlic rice and sinugbang baboy.

9) To help popularize RG, the organizers did an ingenious act: right in the middle of the Eiffel Tower (the most “selfied” place on earth), they hung an illuminated giant tennis ball with the words “Roland Garros.” Merveilleux!

Nishikori stands tall in the game of giants

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PARIS — Height is might. That age-old adage holds true for basketball, swimming, badminton, volleyball and a long list of other sports.

With tennis, height is a tall advantage. You serve from a higher trajectory. You sprint left and reach that backhand faster. Your long legs assist you in that dash to flick the drop shot. When you stretch for a volley, those added inches help.

The average height of the top men’s tennis pro: around 6-foot-1. That’s the height of Roger and Rafa and Pete Sampras. Novak is an inch taller. Andy Murray stands 6’3”. Marin Cilic, the reigning US Open champion and whom I watched from a few feet away this week, has two Eiffel Tower-like legs. He stands 6’6”.

The other day, a giant of a server slammed 219-kph aces against his French opponent. (Although the crowd reveled in their local player’s win.) That American is John Isner, looming tall at 6-foot-10.

Tennis today is different from tennis in the ‘70s or ‘80s. Ushered in by Boom-Boom himself — 6-foot-2 Boris Becker, who continues to be an attraction here, sitting on the stands as his student Novak Djokovic plays — the game today is all-power.

Gone were the days of Ken Rosewall’s slice backhands or Rod Laver’s chip and charge. In the countless hours that I’ve sat by the sideline to watch the professionals at Roland Garros, they do mostly one thing: smother, destroy, crush and butcher. Their weapon of choice is a tennis racket and their unfortunate target is a yellow ball.

In one of the first matches we saw here, I joined Jasmin and Jana in watching Treat Huey. You know Treat! He’s our top Filipino player who’s traveled from America to Cebu several times for Davis Cup action.

Treat and his partner Scott Lipsky won the first set in men’s doubles. We were ecstatic and hoped for victory. Sadly, they lost the next two sets and bombed-out in the first round. Their opponents, two unknowns from Europe, employed a simple tactic: they mutilated the ball. They must have stood 6-foot-4 tall and they just ravaged their shots.

Kei Nishikori is the exception. The Japanese hits clean and hard, but he’s no physical giant. Compared to the Sam Querreys and Ivo Karlovics, he’s small at 5’10”. Yet, he’s winning. He won in Barcelona a few weeks ago and, thus far, he’s into the fourth round in Paris.

At Court Philippe Chatrier earlier this week, I watched him play a dangerous opponent in Thomas Bellucci. He clobbered him in straight sets.

The 25-year-old Kei is an exceptional talent. Given his small physique, he has terrific hands and amazing eye-to-hand coordination. He doesn’t stand 15 feet from the baseline like Nadal; he stands inside the baseline to pound on his ground-strokes. He hits on the rise. That’s why he’s world No. 5 — possibly the highest-ever ranking for an Asian.

CORIC. The best match I’ve seen here: Borna Coric defeating Tommy Robredo in five sets. They played in Court 2 last Thursday and I was fortunate to sit on the third row. Behind me sat Goran Ivanisevic (who, like Coric, hails from Croatia) and three seats to my left was Thomas Johansson, the former Australian Open champion who now coaches Coric.

This kid is a future champ. His serve reaches 205-kph and I like his two-fisted backhand. He steps forward and, armed with a compact swing, delivers a deadly crosscourt drive.

Only 18, he also defeated Sam Querrey in the first round and, if he wins his upcoming encounter against Jack Sock, he’ll meet Nadal in the fourth round — a titillating contest given that Coric upset the Spaniard last year. Watch out for Coric.

AJ LIM. There’s one other Filipino who’s joining here: Alberto Lim, Jr., one of our bright prospects in PHI tennis. He joined the qualifying round of the junior category in Roland Garros but lost a French player.

AJ is only 16 but he was world-ranked 45 last month in the juniors (he’s now 74.). We hope someday that he’ll be the Kei Nishikori of the Philippines.

Viva La France! The locals go 5-0

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PARIS — The French are an expressive and artistic people. This was reflected on the tennis courts at the Stade Roland Garros.

In an “Italy vs. France” contest two afternoons ago, the French thumped their feet on the bleachers surrounding Court 7. They stood with arms punching the air. They screamed “Allez!” They clapped to disrupt the Italian and they clapped to uplift their Frenchman. The Italian was Fabio Fognini, world no. 27. Twice this year, he’s beaten Rafael Nadal and was expected to win the slugfest against Benoit Paire. But, no; the locals wanted Paire, who hails from Avignon, to win. Midway through the match, a fight among the spectators ensued. The details were sketchy but it was possibly a local guy throwing a punch to an Italian adversary.

Paire triumphed in Paris. As Fognini exited the stadium in a huff, I stood two meters away. His face looked desolate. His head was pointed down. Inside the court, a different atmosphere reverberated. Paire was signing autographs. The French spectators wouldn’t let him go. Photos and selfies were snapped. It’s as if he won the French Open!

This scene is duplicated each time a Frenchman plays. The day before, my seatmates Jana, Jasmin and I witnessed the same occurrence. An unknown in the tennis world, Maxime Hamou was treated like a rockstar when he played. His famous countryman, Jo Wilfried-Tsonga, sat on the stands to cheer. The crowd jammed the same Court 7, a mid-size arena. Hamou was losing to Jerzy Janowicz (from Poland) but the French wanted him to claw back from the precipice. They did all the cheering that they could — to no avail.

They booed. Yes. Booing here is normal. While, to us, it would seem too harsh or hostile a welcome to a foreign opponent, here it’s okay. They booed Janowicz. When he questioned a line call and approached the umpire, they booed. When he defeated Hamou, 6-7, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4, they booed. When the two players met at the net to shake hands, they didn’t shake hands — they pulled each other’s hands. Janowicz then pointed a finger to Hamou, gesturing for an apology on an earlier incident. They glared at each other. Hamou booed. The crowd booed. It was crazy and unlike anything I’ve seen.

The French are passionate. They were also winners last Wednesday.

Nicholas Mahut played Ernest Gulbis on Court No. 2. I enjoyed watching this match up-close. Gulbis, who comes from Latvia, was ranked as high as 10 in the world. He was expected to romp into victory against the Frenchman. But again, the crowd roused him to snatch the prize. Mahut won in four sets. Same with no. 12 seed Gilles Simon, winning against Martin Klizan.

Over at Court Suzanne Lenglen (named after an 8-time Grand Slam champion who reigned in the early 1900s), it was another Frenchman: Tsonga. Everybody loves Tsonga — including those who watched him play the International Premier Tennis League (IPTL) in Manila, where he represented the Philippine Mavericks.

Tsonga is forever smiling. He’s a young-looking version of Muhammad Ali who clasps not boxing gloves but a tennis racket. Wearing all-black and looking like Batman on the red clay, he slammed aces and fired crosscourt winners. He was a winner against Dudi Sela.

But nothing beats Gael Monfils. On Court Philippe Chatrier, the 6-foot-4 Monfils was Goliath. He faced a player nine inches shorter in 5-foot-7 Diego Schwartzman. On paper, this was a no-contest. Monfils is the 13th seed while the Argentine lingers at 57.

But in the David vs. Goliath clash, it was the diminutive Argentine who was winning. He won the first set 6-4. Monfils battled back to win the second. In the third, Schwartzman won 6-4. Holding a two sets to one lead, the crowd grew tense. But, energized by the partisan Parisians, Monfils won the next two sets, 6-2, 6-3, punctuating the win with an ace on match point.

“Today I won because I had the crowd behind me,” Monfils said. “They give me, let’s say, some wings.”

Can Rafael Nadal win No. 10?

rafael-nadal-in-actio-against-quentin-halys-at-roland-garros-2015-1(Clive Brunskill/Getty Images Europe)

PARIS — This is the question that lingers in everyone’s minds here.

On his first visit inside Roland-Garros, the 19-year-old triumphed. Every May and June since 2005, he hasn’t lost. The only aberration was in 2009 when he lost in the fourth round to Robin Soderling, the Swede who has since being plagued by injury. In all, that’s 66 matches won in 67 tries.

Rafa has been victorious 9 times and he’s going for that double-digit here in Paris. Can he make it? From what I saw about four rows up on the stands inside the center court, the answer is Yes.

If Floyd Mayweather, Jr. calls MGM Garden his personal garden and if Michael Jordan soared in his airspace called the United Center in Chicago — then Stade Roland Garros is the home away from the Mallorcan home of Rafa.

Court Philippe Chatrier, their center court here, is not massive. I’ve been inside the Arthur Ashe Stadium and that 22,547-seater complex is humongous. While typing this, I’m looking around the rectangular-shaped arena and it’s magnifique. Green seats abound. Glass-enclosed partitions cover the TV booths. Digital screens sit on corners displaying scores. Down below, where, on a full-capacity house, the 14,840 pairs of eyes will focus, is the centerpiece tennis court.

It’s color brown. Officially, it’s “red clay” but, to my brown eyes, they’re brown. What makes this court different is the back-stop. It’s that open space behind the baseline. It’s a huge area — the ideal canvas where Nadal weaves his magic.

I watched Nadal’s match here on a “Super Tuesday.” Why super? Because you’ve got three salivating matches: Nadal first, Novak Djokovic next, followed by Serena Williams.

Rafa played a Frechman named Quentin Halys. The organizers couldn’t have picked (by the luck of draw) a better first-round opponent for the Spaniard. The French here, obviously the majority who watch, are fiercely patriotic. They clap; no, make that they “chant while clapping.” In unison, they all clap like a symphony orchestra to motivate their local guy. Because while they cheered for their adopted Parisian named Rafa, they cheered even louder for Halys. In the end, while the 18-year-old produced his slew of winners, he was no match to Rafa. The score: 6-3, 6-3, 6-4.

Djokovic followed. Wearing an orange shirt by Uniqlo, he looks supremely confident and tall at 6’2”. He should be. He’s been almost undefeated this entire season, including a win at the Australian Open last January. He’s won 8 Grand Slam singles titles but never the French Open. Twice, in 2012 and last year, he reached the final only to be thwarted by Rafa.

Will 2015 be Novak’s year? As much as I’m a confessed Rafa fan — I count Bobby Aboitiz, Frank Malilong, Fabby Borromeo, Ernie Delco, Bobby Lozada, Noy and Amale Jopson, and Fr. Joy Danao in the same camp — I think Rafa will lose next week. He’s ranked a lowly 7 and, by the bad luck of the draw (he himself picked the ball during the Draw Ceremony), he’ll meet Djokovic in the quarterfinals. That will be titanic. It’s sad that the two have to meet so early; but then maybe Rafa will leave in the same stage as he did against Soderling.
I closely watched Novak’s game and while he trailed 2-5 against Jarkko Nieminen, he clawed his way back to win in straight sets. The Serb has no weaknesses. His backhand is better than his forehand. His return of serve is as good as Agassi’s. His mind, that unseen mass that determines a win or loss, is as strong as Lance Armstrong on the bike. Like most here, I’m voting for him to win next Sunday.

Around here, you’ll see tennis greats lingering. Boris Becker occupies his usual spot at the players box. I watched how he took off his red jacket when the weather warmed. Seated four seats away was Novak’s wife, the blonde and beautiful Jelena. She wasn’t interested in her husband. She fiddled away with her phone.

In Rafa’s camp, the Spanish armada was all-present: coach/uncle Toni, Rafa’s parents, and his girlfriend, the beauteous Xisca Perello.

Roland-Garros

PARIS — After three days of gazing at bicycles in Amsterdam and after an overnight hop to Brussels to sample Belgian chocolates and waffles, we arrived at the City of Light.

Yes, would you believe here in Europe now, at 9:40 at night… it’s still bright. The sun arises early before 6 and it doesn’t set until nearly 10 p.m. Which means, for this city with the illuminated Eiffel Tower, you’ll have endless time to walk the gardens, snap photos of the Louvre and crave on crepes and croissants.

The first stop for this tennis-crazy writer? Where else: Roland-Garros.

Here in Paris, they don’t call their tennis tournament “French Open.” That would make it too obvious. Roland Garros is the name of a World War I fighter pilot (not of a tennis legend). It is also the name of the Parisian tennis garden where, for two weeks, rackets will pulverize balls and rubber shoes will slide on sand.

My wife Jasmin, our 16-year-old daughter Jana and I are staying near the Opera district. On Monday morning at 9:25, I walked to the Metro station in Grands Boulevards and descended the flight of stairs. A speedy 25 minutes later, I emerged from Michel Ange Molitor.

As soon as I alighted from the Metro station, I knew I was in the correct place. A “STADE ROLAND GARROS” signage pointed the way. On the asphalted sidewalk, there was a spray-painted sign that read, “1100 meters away.”

Walking briskly (I didn’t want to look overly-excited by sprinting), I reached the gate alongside hordes of other tennis fanatics.

This is my second time inside Roland-Garros. But the first one was different: Back in 2001 with the Mendez family of my wife, we entered the empty complex in Sept. and toured staring at empty green seats and no one firing backhands on the 20 courts.

Last Monday was different. It was a holiday in France and thousands congregated inside (I couldn’t even buy tickets for Jasmin and Jana).

Roland-Garros is special because, like many landmarks that stand here like the Notre Dame Cathedral and the Versailles Palace, it is rich in history. Founded in 1891, it began as a tennis event limited only to male members of French clubs. Six years later, women competed in their own category. It wasn’t until 1925 when international netters were welcome.

I attempted to soak in all of this history two days ago. Before watching any balls being hit from right to left, I walked the hallowed grounds. Sculptures of tennis legends adorn the gardens. A museum houses the memories and moments. Names like Henri Cochet and Jean Borotra are sprinkled around walls.

Rene Lacoste, world famous for his clothing brand, is a three-time French Open champion. During his playing days, he was nicknamed the “Crocodile” for his ferocity on-court; thus, the logo of Lacoste.

Everyone here, naturally, wears Lacoste. All the umpires wear blue coats or T-shirts with the the crocodile logo. Same with the officials and linesman, in honor of their French star.

I got to see plenty of boxing last Monday. Yes, like Manny’s sport, tennis is one on one. (More challenging than boxing: no coach is allowed to converse with you.)

Fabio Fognini was a magnet for spectators in Court 2. He played Tatsumi Ito. For those who went to Plantation Bay in 2011 for the Davis Cup tie when we played Japan, you’ll remember the tall Japanese. He promptly lost to Fognini.

Soon after, Jasmin asked me on Viber: How are you doing? My reply: “I’m in tennis Disneyland.”

Two youngsters impressed me the most. One was Dominic Thiem. Only 21, the Austrian smothers that serve and forehand. Another kid to watch is Borna Coric, the former No.1 junior, who defeated Sam Querrey. That first-set tiebreaker was a thrill. Coric, only 18, is the youngest player in the Top 100 (he’s 46).

At Court Suzanne Lenglen, it was Gael Monfils who fueled much applause. He’s French and he reminds me of Yannick Noah. Remember the 6-foot-4 serve-and-volleyer (who’s the dad of the Chicago Bulls star, Joakim)? He won Roland-Garros in 1983 — the last Frenchman to win the men’s singles crown.

Biking in Amsterdam

AMSTERDAM — Jasmin, Jana and I spent three days in the “biking capital of the world.” Yes, if you’ve been to the top destination of The Netherlands, you’ll notice that everyone is riding a two-wheeled, human-powered vehicle.

“Amsterdam is the most bicycle-friendly capital city in the world,” says Wikipedia. “In Amsterdam, over 60% of trips are made by bike in the inner city and 40% of trips are made by bike overall in the greater city area.”

Would you believe that six out of every 10 trips that the Amsterdammers take are not on jeepneys (just kidding, they have trams and buses) but via the bicycle.

Amsterdam is not large. The population is one million and, all over the side streets and near the canals (it is home to over one hundred kilometers of canals), you see bicycles parked everywhere.

Here’s the interesting part: their bicycles are ugly. Pardon the word but they pay no attention to the looks of their bikes. The more “taya” (rusty), the better. The reason is because they park their bikes anywhere and they can easily be stolen. Thus, they opt for dirty, old and rotten bikes.

During our stay here, we did the traditional visits to their famous sights. The Van Gogh Museum is amazing. One of the great painters of all time, the Dutch artist has on display hundreds of art works. It’s a must-visit in this city. The canal cruise is another worthwhile trek. We also sat alongside the locals listening to classical Mozart music performed by the orchestra at the famous Concertgebouw

At the Vondelpark, the largest park in Amsterdam, Jasmin and I ran seven kilometers. It’s a beautiful and refreshing open space filled with gardens, ponds and grass fields. You see so many into sports: football, jogging, cycling, roller-blading. (A not-so-funny sight that proliferates this city and the park? Coffee-inhaling people. By “coffee,” I don’t mean Starbucks aroma but marijuana. Yes, smoking pot is legal in Amsterdam — same with prostitution — and you see “coffee shops” everywhere.)

On running, thousands and thousands here run. I recall, back in October 2009, our closest buddies joining the Amsterdam Marathon. Doctors Albert Santos and Vic Verallo were joined by Meyrick “Jacs” Jacalan and the Ong siblings, Jane-Jane, Andrew and Nica, in finishing the Amsterdam Marathon. Perl Jacalan did the 21K.

Back to our three-day trek here, the activity that we enjoyed most was the four-hour Biking Tour. We enlisted in Mike’s Bike Tours and, among the choices that included a City Tour, we enrolled in the Countryside Tour.

Starting at 11 a.m. here last Friday, we joined 30 others. After a briefing by our tour guide Vincent, we chose our individual bikes and started pedaling. Riding single-file, it’s a terrific way to explore Amsterdam. Every roadway here has a bike lane. Located between the road (for cars) and the sidewalk (for pedestrians), the clearly-marked bike pathway is that safe area for bikers.

We toured the city streets before heading towards the famous Amstel River. It’s a scenic ride. The temperature was a cool 17C degrees and we pedaled inhaling fresh air and gazing at countryside homes.

The windmill was one of our major stops. The Riekermolen Windmill, built in 1636, was huge. After posing for some photos and visiting the statue of Rembrandt, we headed off and visited the Rembrandthoeve farm. We listened to Dutch farmers explain how to make Gouda cheese and they demonstrated how to make the traditional art of making wooden shoes. Next, it was back to the bike and a lot more pedaling through, as their official website reads, “the polder landscape with it’s rectilinear ditches and dikes.” By 3 p.m., we were back to the garage to park the bikes.

My realization: Biking is good. It’s free exercise. I know our roads are narrow and there are no dedicated bike lanes. (On a positive note, I applaud the DPWH for extending the road for bikers in the climb up to Busay.)

We should bike more. Just ask the Dutch.

Vios Cup in Cebu

To move forward. That’s the Latin meaning of the word “Vios.”

Yesterday and today, it’s all about moving forward. Forty four modified racing vehicles — all Toyota Vios cars colored red, black and gray — will move fast forward as they compete in the Vios Cup race in Cebu.

I passed-by the SRP yesterday morning. White tents stood erect. Barricades cordoned the road. Clean asphalt glistened in the 33-degree sun. A large stage where non-stop partying will transpire loomed tall at the Sugbu Building. It’s the Vios Cup — a first for Cebu!

Vios-cup(www.motioncars.inquirer.net)

“The much-acclaimed One Make Race in the country,” read the official website, “will be held for the first time in the Visayas region wherein gearheads and car fans can witness what waku-doki is all about!”

What’s “waku-doki?” It’s a Japanese term for feeling super-excited. It’s that adrenaline rush that envelopes the body before a racing event.

Toyota, the world’s top-selling automaker (they sold an estimated 10.23 million vehicles last year), is bringing the Vios Cup outside of Luzon. Consider ourselves lucky. Cebu doesn’t own a race track like the Clark International Speedway — but we have the South Road Properties. And all the racing this weekend will converge at the SRP.

The Qualifying Rounds took place yesterday. Today, the main event happens. As early as 7 a.m., the participants are expected to arrive at the SRP. Between 8 to 9 a.m. today, they’ll rev their engines, check their tires and perform some warm-up circles. The Opening Program commences at 11 and, by 12 noon, the race proper begins.

The Vios Cup offers two categories: the Sporting Class and the Promotional Class. The Sporting Class riders are composed of the top tier of racers; the Promotional Class involves the celebrities and those who did not make the cuf-off in the Sporting Class.

The race track or “circuit” at the SRP will be near the Sugbu Building and Lantaw Native Restaurant. According to race director JP Tuason of the Toyota Racing School, the circuit is 2.2 kms. long. It’s not a long uninterrupted stretch but several winding turns and stops. Tuason describes it as “a medium to high-speed track featuring several chicanes (turns).”

You want to see celebrities? Derek Ramsey is joining. There’s also a DK Drift Exhibition by Japanese expert Keiichi Tsuchiya. If you watched Tokyo Drift (the Fast and Furious movie), you’ll watch the real performance today, slated around 12:45 p.m.

But more than the celebrities, the ones to look for are our homegrown Cebuano participants. Jette Calderon, the famous go-kart champion from Cebu, is joining. He’s bannering the “Toyota Cebu Mandaue South” team. The others from Cebu include Lord Seno, Sean Velasco, Harold Ong and Oscar Suarez.

Another Cebuano is Daniel Miranda. Although he now lives in Manila, he was a long-time Cebuano resident. We’ve known Daniel — the son of Martin and Angie Miranda — as a go-kart champion; he’s one of the top riders to watch this weekend.

In the Cebu Daily News article “Race Ready” yesterday by my fellow sportswriters Jonas Panerio and Dale Rosal, the 18-year-old Miranda was quoted as saying, “It’s good (I’m here) because it’s  an opportunity for my friends to see me race.”

The CDN article continues: “‘Getting the right set-up and to be consistent with driving,’ said Miranda on what he thinks will be the significant keys to taking home the crown this weekend… The youngster also believes that the valuable experience he gained in karting will serve him well in the one-make race that features Toyota’s most salable vehicle, the Vios.

“‘It’s an advantage that I have background in karting, it makes it easier to adapt with the race conditions,’ boldly proclaimed Miranda.”

I repeat: The Vios Cup is the first of its kind ever in Cebu. Thanks to Toyota (and with the help of Meyrick and Perl Jacalan of ASAP Advertising), we’ll all be witnesses to this road race. Admission is free. The race proper runs from 12 noon to 5 p.m.

What’s wrong with Rafa?

He’s slipped to No. 7. He lost to Andy Murray, whom he’s never lost to before on clay, in Madrid. He’s on a four-loss record on clay (the worst since he was a teenager). Heading into Rome, this is the worst preparation he’s encountered so far.

His reply? Classic Nadal. “I cannot leave Madrid not happy. I have to leave happy and just delete what happened today. I will just stay with the good things that happened this week, and there are a lot of them, more good than bad. I will try to recover the good feelings in Rome.”

Champions, they say, need to have both long and short memories. Long memories to remember how good they are (Nadal’s a 14-time Grand Slam champ) and short enough to forget the most recent loss.

With the major prize coming up in Paris in two weeks, I can’t wait. First-hand, I’ll watch if Rafa can win his 10th French Open trophy.

Tom Brady

Last Sunday, I published the comments of Dan Mastous, my long-time American friend who, although he’s a Dallas Cowboys fan, thought that the New England Patriots should not be punished. Well, the verdict is out and it’s severe: four games suspension for Brady and $1 million in fines (plus no upcoming draft picks).

To the non-NFL fan, four games might be very few — but in the NFL, this is plenty. Consider that while MLB (baseball) has 162 games in the regular season and the NBA has 82, the NFL only has 16 regular season games. Why so few? Because NFL is all about physical contact. It’s two giants colliding; a defender ramming a quarterback while he’s not looking; helmets head-butting; it’s 275-lb. musclemen jumping on top of each other.

Brady’s four-game suspension appears to be one of the most severe penalties ever handed, especially to a mighty superstar. It’s like informing Lionel Messi that he can’t play for two months. Like Dana White telling Jon Bones Jones that he’s suspended indefinitely. (He is!)

I agree with the suspension. Based on the findings — though there was no personal admission and no witnesses saw the actual “DeflateGate” — it was clear that cheating ensued. And even if the act was inconsequential, cheating is cheating. It has no place in sports. To condone it will be a terrible message for the public, particularly to the youth.

My picks? Clippers-Warriors, Cavs-Hawks

Everybody happy. That’s the term we use in tennis when, midway through a tough fight, the score is all-square. It’s a tie. In the NBA, three of the four quarterfinal games scored 2-all. Isn’t this terrific? This is what fans want. A best-of-seven contest that’s become two-out-of-three.

The Golden State Warriors lost a home game but, after winning the other day, they’re back. Same with Cleveland. Missing Kevin Love, they turned-over the home court advantage to Chicago — but that was before LeBron James’ buzzer-beater in Game 4. That shot was amazing. In the previous game, it was Derrick Rose who performed that incredible three-point bank shot. In an MVP vs. MVP duel, LeBron seized the opportunity in Game 4 and fired his own winning shot. Plus, did you see LeBron’s block on Rose in yesterday’s win?

In a few days’ time, I expect the four remaining teams (out of the league’s 30 squads) to be the LA Clippers vs. the Warriors and the Cavs against the Atlanta Hawks.

Of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin and the other less-famous Los Angeles team, the Clippers are on a basketball roll. After that escape against the defending champs Spurs (when they were down 2-3), they’ve embarrassed the Rockets. In the next round, everybody’s looking forward to this all-California encounter: Clippers-Warriors.

Thus far, this NBA season has been one of the most thrilling. We had the move of LeBron back to his hometown. We had the unbelievable season of Steph — one of the greatest displays of shooting that we’ve seen. We witnessed his MVP rivalry with Harden, Westbrook and LeBron. (In the end, it was not close: Curry won 100 of 130 first-place votes.)

Dan Mastous on Tom Brady and cheating in sports

I’ve known him for 20 years. Each time he visits, we play tennis at Casino Español. He stands 6-foot-6, lives north of Boston, and is a lifelong sports fanatic.

Dan Mastous emailed me on “DeflateGate.” It’s the biggest “scandal” in America today and it involves a star NFL quarterback, the husband of supermodel Gisele Bundchen. Here’s Dan’s take on the controversy:

“I live about an hour-and-a-half north of Foxboro, MA (home of the New England Patriots). It’s definitively Patriot country.

“Under-inflated balls did not help the Patriots beat the Colts 47-7, and they certainly didn’t help Tom Brady torch one of the NFL’s best secondaries in the Super Bowl.

“The bottom line to me is — and this is the case in most of life in the USA — when someone is successful, as the Patriots have been for 15 years, everyone is looking to knock them off their perch. Everyone is looking to find fault with them.

“First there was the ‘tuck rule’ then Spy-gate, now deflate-gate. It’s all pebbles on a beach. Each charge is small and insignificant. They win because Bill Belichick is a better coach. He rarely has the best players, though they are very good.

“Tom Brady is a big part of that, however, and when he starts to slow down, we’ll see if Belichick can keep it up. My guess is he won’t bother to try. He’ll retire along with Brady. Still I’m a bit disappointed in the Pats.

“It’s the American way… if you aren’t cheating, you aren’t trying. The Pats are doing nothing the other teams aren’t doing. They are covering all the bases to win. They do have some standard about the types of players they have. They don’t mind if they have a bad record necessarily. Just as long as they don’t do anything bad while on the Patriots. Aaron Hernandez, now on trial for murder, aside, they have a good record in this.

“As far as what the Pats are accused of, I don’t think it makes a considerable difference in the outcome of a game. The game in question showed that. The Pats were dominant all game. The issue was discovered and corrected during half time. There was no question the balls were properly inflated during the Super Bowl, and Brady demoralized the Seahawks at times during that game.

“I don’t think the inflation of the footballs is as influential on the game as Performance-Enhancing Drugs (PEDs), but I think PEDs are less of an issue than most in this country. The only reason PEDs are frowned upon in pro sports is because of the influence pro athletes have on kids. PEDs are not too damaging to adults (in fact they are frequently prescribed for older people), but they are very damaging to the growth of kids. So they are outlawed.

“There was a moment in last year’s NBA Finals, maybe you saw it. I think it was Game 2. Dwayne Wade had the ball at half court and lost it. He was trying to get control of it and Manu Ginobili brought his hands up near Wade’s face. Not really close, didn’t hit Wade, but Wade turned his head and fell back like he got punched. This resulted in a foul on Ginobili and free throws for Wade. A phantom foul clearly influenced by Wade.

“I think that kind of thing is much worse than what the Pats are accused of, possibly even worse than steroids. What Pete Rose did was much worse that what the Pats are accused of.

“There is cheating and then there is CHEATING. Affecting the outcome of a game, either by what Wade did, or what Rose may have done (as a manager to win his bets), is very bad. Or even in tennis. Calling a shot out that wasn’t out in a friendly match is very bad. Breaking the law (illegal drugs, steroids aren’t completely illegal, murder, theft, that kind of thing) is very bad. It doesn’t have an effect on the game, but it shouldn’t be looked past either.

“What the Pats did was wrong because they broke the rules, but not all that influential on the game, so no I don’t think it was that big of a deal. I think it’s simply that most of the other teams looking for reasons they can’t beat Belichick & Brady.”

Manny ‘shoulders’ the blame

_82781757_mannypacquiao(Getty Images)

Manny Pacquiao faced two opponents last weekend: an undefeated “Fun Run Champion” and an injury called the “Rotator Cuff Tear.”

Of the latter, I speak from experience. I, too, had an almost-similar injury. And like what Manny is about to undergo later this week, I went “under the knife.” I had surgery.

Mine happened five years ago. No, I’m no boxer. My sport is tennis and several years back, after shifting to marathon-running, I stopped tennis. But then I wanted to return to playing the sport of Roger Federer and, without much warm-up and take-it-easy preparation, I started to hit my serves as hard as I could.

That pronation and shoulder-twisting action from the tennis serve injured my shoulder. Hard-headed and thinking that it was temporary, I continued. The shoulder pain turned unbearable. I slept in agony; when I turned to my right, the discomfort was excruciating. I couldn’t twist my right arm counter-clockwise. I rested. Iced the shoulder. Underwent therapy. But then months ensued and, after all options were exhausted, I opted for surgery.

Jose Antonio “Tony” San Juan, the foremost sports medicine surgeon in the Visayas and Mindanao, was my doctor.

“Your condition was a rotator cuff impingement/subacromial impingement,” said Tony, who will be flying to Vietnam tomorrow with Jonel Borromeo to join Steve and Maricel Maniquis in the first-ever Ironman 70.3 Vietnam triathlon race this Sunday. “You didn’t have a tear yet at the time of surgery but if left alone you would have suffered a tear.”

Common to sports involving overhead and shoulder movements (like tennis, badminton, volleyball, boxing, baseball and swimming), my injury was due, said Tony, “to your rotator cuff getting impinged/compressed by bony overgrowth in your acromioclavicular joint (joint formed by your collarbone and extension of your shoulder blade).”

Too technical? He explains: “When we did your surgery (Subacromial Decompression), it was aimed at relieving you of the pain caused by the impingement.”

That’s the rotary cuff injury for sports involving overheard movements. Boxing? This is an entirely different animal of a game. Dr. San Juan explains the possible causes of the injury. “Untreated or undertreated impingement (like mine) may eventually lead to a tear. Another cause of a rotator cuff tear is trauma: the sudden contraction of the rotator cuff muscle that could cause it to detach from its bony attachment.”

Manny Pacquiao’’s injury, he says, involves both. “Pain and limitation of movement and function because of the pain are what needs to be addressed with the treatment,” he said.

Is there a chance that Manny’s injury will be career-ending? I’d like to answer that: Any procedure that involves surgery — especially for a fighter who’s boxed hundreds and hundreds of rounds — can be career-ending. It is possible that last Sunday was the last that we saw of Pacman on the ring.

But Tony is confident. “Present techniques for surgical treatment (Subacromial Decompression, Rotator Cuff Repair) have high rates of success,” he said, “and most are able to return to a high level of physical activity with proper care and rehabilitation.”

This is good news. The bad news? A long, long recovery process, taking as long as 9 to 12 months. “This could test the patience of an elite athlete like MP,” said Tony. Let’s remember: By then, Pacquiao will be 37.

“MP couldn’t be in better hands, though, under the care of Dr. Neal ElAttrache,” said Tony. “He is a well recognized global authority in this field who has treated the likes of Kobe Bryant, Tom Brady and Vitali Klitschko.”

Our doctor-triathlete’s suggestion for Manny? To touch base with Kobe, Brady and Kiltschko, the former heavyweight champ. I’m sure these celebrities will answer the call of Manny (especially Kobe who, like Manny, is a Nike endorser and who’s the same age).

“They’’re the best source of information and confidence heading into surgery as they have had first-hand experience,” said Tony.

Like many, Manny tried

Manny clearly lost. It was obvious. To think otherwise would mean that our eyes are tainted with bias. In my own scoring, he won only three rounds.

He convincingly won Rounds 4 and 6 — as evidenced by the unanimous scores of all three judges. Weren’t those episodes vintage Pacquiao? Him unleashing rapid-fire bullets that had Floyd hiding in his cave barricaded with his arms as shield? In rounds 4 and 6, Manny showed us the real SuperManny.

But other than those fleeting moments, he was not the same man who embarrassed Oscar de la Hoya, floored Hatton and reduced the size of the 5-foot-11 Antonio Margarito to a bloody-faced midget. He was not the mini-Mike Tyson who’d rampage and bulldoze his ferocious will over Goliaths.

Imagine being out-pointed by Floyd in the punches-thrown scorecard? And when it matters most — the actual punches that landed — Floyd connects on 34 percent while Manny limps to 19 percent? Floyd landed 67 more punches (148 vs. 81) than Manny.

Unlikely. Improbable. But it happened. And we thought that Manny The Aggressor would relinquish that let’s-play-it-safe mentality and, never mind if he’d be labeled “reckless,” that he’d attack, invade, attack, invade.

Did he suffer some flashes of memory of that moment four bouts ago against Juan Manuel Marquez — in the same ring inside MGM Grand — when he was crushed with one right hook? How he got careless and paid for it by lying motionless on the floor? Did that memory recur? Which would explain why he was hesitant and did not employ his usual blitzkrieg of weapons?

Maybe. I’ve never tried boxing. But to those who’ve been flattened before, they say you’ll never forget it; that each time you climb the ring, the nightmarish memory resurfaces.

Was it the right shoulder injury? Possible. As any athlete will tell you, when you suffer a physical trauma — during training or, worse, during the actual contest — it hobbles you. Maybe this explains why Manny threw a measly 193 jabs (versus 267 from Floyd), connecting on a paltry 9 percent. Can you believe this: Manny landed only 18 jabs in the 12 rounds. It must be the injury. Which is very unfortunate for our man.

With Mayweather, as hated as he is, you’ve got to applaud his performance. This was exactly how he planned it. This was how he won 47 prior bouts and how he’ll win two more to reach 50 and 0 and beat Rocky Marciano’s record.

Floyd is as slithery as a snake, as quick to bite back as a King Cobra. What also worked against Manny was Floyd’s 5-inch reach advantage. How Floyd took advantage of that, firing left hook after left hook (67 jabs landed, in all), keeping a faraway distance between him and Manny.

As it turns out, this fight turned out to be exactly how majority of experts projected it to play. There was no knockout. The bout lasted the full 12 episodes of three minutes each. And Floyd got his Unanimous Decision victory. This was, to borrow the cliche, “according to script.”

It was clear that if Manny was going to win, he needed to be extraordinary. He needed to “take it to Floyd.” Manny needed to take risks. We knew what Floyd was going to do: weave, jab, wait, pounce, do a shoulder roll, slap a straight right hook. For Manny to win, he needed to produce the type of heroics that one athlete was known for. That spectator was Michael Jordan.

For a 36-year-old congressman who’s fought professionally 65 times, Manny tried. But his trying was not good enough. That’s sport. The man who tries hardest doesn’t always win. (And the loser doesn’t always take home P3 billion.)

In the end, the hype for this once-in-a-century extravaganza was too much. No fight could have lived up to those expectations — except a spectacular Pacquiao knockout, which was as unlikely to happen as the Los Angeles Clippers losing at home by 27 points in Game 7. As it turns out, being a non-San Antonio Spurs fan, that was the only thing to smile about. At least one world champion got dethroned last Saturday night.

Play ball! It’s the NBA Playoffs

Dennis Que loves basketball. Almost daily, he switches on the TV set to swallow that regular dosage of NBA action. He’s also watched, on vacation episodes, live games in the U.S. Like I’ve done in the past, I asked for Dennis’ expert NBA commentary…

“Looking back at the regular season,” Dennis said, “the team that stood out most was the Atlanta Hawks.” We all expected Cleveland and Chicago to top the East, he said, but everyone’s applauding Atlanta who, in January, amassed a 17-0 record — the first perfect month in NBA history.

“In the West, it’s the Golden State Warriors,” said Dennis. “Under first year coach Steve Kerr and with almost the same line-up from last year, they led the NBA with a 67-15 record. This is the most wins by a rookie coach, a record.”

The other notable moments, said Dennis: LeBron James coming back home to Cleveland, Steve Nash retiring, Paul George returning to court after a horrific leg injury, Russell Westbrook’s string of triple doubles, Zach Lavine revitalizing the dunk contest, and Kobe Bryant’s lifelong dream to pass Michael Jordan for 3rd on the scoring list.

“The game that I will never forget was when Klay Thompson scored a record 37 points in one quarter,” he said. “He shot 13-13 from the field including 9-9 from beyond the arc.”

On the post-season, Dennis commends the New Orleans Pelicans, who had to win on the last day of regular season (against the Spurs!) to eliminate OKC. In the east, the Milwaukee Bucks surprised him the most, considering they were the worst team last season and they have a new coach. “Jason Kidd did a great job with almost the same team from last season and after losing key players due to injuries,” said Dennis. The biggest surprise: Miami and Indiana (Eastern finalists the past three seasons) not making the playoffs.

FIRST ROUND. In the East, the best match-up is between the Toronto Raptors and the Washington Wizards. “I predict this series to go to game 7 with Toronto winning,” said Dennis, who doesn’t expect upsets in the others, with Atlanta, Chicago and Cleveland advancing to Round 2.

In the West, he cites two interesting encounters: the 2nd seed Rockets versus the 7th seed Mavericks (“the Rockets are favored but the Mavericks might pull an upset”) and San Antonio versus Los Angeles.

“Last year, the Clippers was poised to meet the Spurs in the Western Finals but lost to the Thunder in Game 7,” he said. “This, for me, is the most exciting series and I hate to see either team exit the first round.” But he expects the Spurs to triumph, same with the Warriors and Grizzlies.

PREDICTIONS. In the East, Dennis thinks the Cavs have it easy because of less competition (Boston and New Jersey made the playoffs with losing records). The Western Conference is different because of many contenders. “Each team has to go thru 3 grueling series before they can reach the Finals,” he said.

He likes the Hawks vs. the Cavaliers for the Eastern Finals. “The Hawks has experience,” said Dennis. “With the Cavs, two of their top players (Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love) have not played a single playoff game.” But he expects Cleveland to win because of their size, speed and “they have LeBron.”

In the West, Dennis foresees the Warriors vs. the Spurs. “The Warriors are favored and they have enough experience, youth, and they’re the best offensive and defensive team,” he said, “But the Spurs have the experience and the motivation to win back-to-back. Plus, they’re peaking at the right time.”

FINALS? Cavaliers-Spurs. No major shock in Dennis’ prediction but this one is surprising: “Just like the 2007 NBA Finals, this will be a short one,” he said. “The Spurs’ experience could prove too much for the more talented Cavaliers. It’s too hard to beat the Spurs in a seven-game series. Time is running out on this old Spurs team but they will be motivated to win their first back-to-back in the Popovich-Duncan era.”

Is Dennis right? He also picks Steph Curry to win the MVP. Let’s see. The NBA postseason begins today.

Fab@40 by the PBA

pba-40-greatest-ceremony(From interaksyon.com)

The Philippine Basketball Association is Asia’s oldest pro basketball league. It started 40 years ago this week — to be exact, the first PBA game was played at the Araneta Coliseum on April 9, 1975. Worldwide, the PBA is reportedly “the second oldest continuously existing basketball league,” next to the 69-year-old NBA. (Our family is proud to call one of our own as a PBA alumni: my uncle Rey Pages donned the green Crispa Redmanizers jersey in the ‘70s.)

To commemorate the PBA’s entering its fifth decade, it announced a set of awards: “The 40 Greatest PBA Players of All Time.”

In a glitzy affair last Wednesday — at the Newport Performing Arts Theatre in Resorts World Manila where, two years ago, we watched the musical, “The King and I” — the Top 40 were introduced to the public.

But first, a rewind: Back in 2000 during the Silver Anniversary of the league, the “25 Best Ever PBA Players” list was introduced. Who were the names included then? Led by Cebu’s pride Ramon Fernandez, the list included Robert Jaworski, Alvin Patrimonio, Bogs Adornado, Abet Guidaben, Benjie Paras, Atoy Co, Freddie Hubalde, Philip Cezar, Ricky Brown, Johnny Abarrientos, Ato Agustin, Francis Arnaiz, Hector Calma, Jerry Codiñera, Kenneth Duremdes, Bernie Fabiosa, Danny Florencio, Jojo Lastimosa, Lim Eng Beng, Samboy Lim, Ronnie Magsanoc, Vergel Meneses and Manny Paner. My favorite shooter Allan Caidic made the cut.

Fast forward this week, the PBA Board, in their “Ruby Anniversary,” called the party, “Fab@40.” Who additional 15 honorees were included? Jimmy Alapag leads the list. He’s joined by James Yap, Danny Ildefonso, Willie Miller, Asi Taulava, Eric Menk, Kelly Williams, Jayjay Helterbrand, Jimmy Alapag, Mark Caguioa, Arwind Santos, Jayson Castro, Marc Pingris, Kerby Raymundo, Chito Loyzaga and Marlou Aquino.

Our friend Pato Gregorio, who used to head the Waterfront Lahug hotel and who’s now the PBA board chairman, led the deliberations, saying:“Forty will never be enough. We’ve had so many great PBA players since 1975. But to celebrate our 40th season, we had to do the difficult task of naming the 40 greatest PBA players – the pillars of the league. Mga idolo ng bawat Pilipino.”

The party last Wednesday was special not only because it brought the awardees together in formal wear — everyone wore suits except the Barong Tagalog-wearing Codiñera — but also because it was a show: ballplayers walked the ramp wearing various summer and informal wear and the league launched new products including the PBA credit card, the Life magazine and a video game.

As celebrated as the 40th Anniversary was, there was a problem: People are complaining. My colleague Rommel Manlosa, in his piece, “El Presidente’s No-Show,” talked about Mon Fernandez skipping the Awards Night as a sign of protest. Mon said, “I will not say who are not deserving, but I’d rather question why Abe King, Nelson Asaytono, Olsen Racela, Danny Seigle, Bong Hawkins, among others were not included.”

Valid point. This, of course, is the danger with presenting any “Best Ever” awards. With hundreds of players to choose from, there will always be some deserving names who’ll be left out.

What was the criteria used to select the Top 40? The panel listed four items, summarized as follows: the player must have played at least four full seasons, must have been a major awardee (MVP or others), must have made a major impact and contribution towards basketball.

The criteria seems fair. But some are questioning the selection process. It appears that the panel (back in Dec. when the names were released) did not consult a wide range of experts and did not meet at length and on several occasions.

For now, the Top 40 list is out and nobody can reverse the names. (Jayson Castro, the youngest recipient, offered the best response: he buried eight treys and scored 27 the night after the awarding.)

My take? The PBA should have been more patient and waited for the Golden Anniversary. To this, I urge you to read “Lessons for the PBA’s 50th” by Bill Velasco.

Serena Williams

I consider myself lucky. Three times I watched Serena Williams in person, three times she won gold. I’ll never forget the first time. We visited New York and Serena, then 17, won her first Grand Slam singles title. She triumphed in style, beating former major winners Kim Clijsters, Conchita Martinez, Monica Seles, Lindsay Davenport and in the final — which I watched with my dad Bunny and the late Kits Borromeo and his son (and one of my best friends) Fabby — we saw Serena beat Martina Hingis to become only the second African-American female netter to win a major since Althea Gibson in 1958.

That US Open was Serena’s first major. She and her older sister Venus would also win the doubles crown in Flushing Meadows. That was 16 years ago.

Today, she has amassed a cabinet-full of hardware. In singles, she owns six Australian Open trophies, two at the French Open, six at the US Open and five Wimbledon crowns. That’s a total of 19. (By comparison, the men’s leader, Roger Federer, has 17.) In doubles, she has 13; in mixed doubles, she owns two. Her total runs to 34 Grand Slam titles. Yet, as plenty as those accolades are, Serena only ranks seventh in the all-time list of major winners. The top spot belongs to Margaret Court who, back in the 1960s, collected 64 major crowns!

Why this talk on Serena? Because, at the age of 33, she is still as fresh as a high school teenager, excited about competing. Last Sunday, she won the Miami Open, clobbering her final opponent Carla Suarez Navarro, 6-2, 6-0.

Compared to the likes of Maria Sharapova and Ana Ivanovic, Serena is not your typical tennis player — physique-wise. Many of the top players are super slim. They possess long legs that are perfect for the sprints needed for tennis.

Serena is huge. Her legs are massive; so is her upper body and, if you look at her “behind,” they, too, are huge. Serena’s vital statistics are 36D-28-40. For me, the most interesting number is the middle: 28. As hulky as she is, her waistline is miniscule. (By comparison, the vital statistics of Maria Sharapova, who stands 6-foot-1 and weighs 130 lbs., are 34-24-36.)

Nobody is as brawny and heavy-duty as Serena. Does this slow her down? Hardly. Her strengths are two-fold: physical and mental. With those biceps as big as Rafael Nadal’s, she’s able to whip those shots with ferocity. But her strongest weapon is her brain. I saw this at the Beijing Olympics when she and Venus won the doubles gold.

Her mental fortitude was most evident last October during the WTA Championships in Singapore. In one of her round-robin matches, she was humiliated by Simona Halep, losing 6-0, 6-2. I watched that game and it was perplexing. Here was one of tennis’ all-time greats being schooled. That mishap would have devastated others. Minutes after the loss, Serena enters the press conference room. I was seated 15 feet away. Was she crying or in depression? She was disappointed, obviously, but she still retained that smile. I will get better, she told the assembled media. True to her word, in the days that ensued she never lost and soon pocketed her fifth year-ending trophy.

Given how she’s dominated the women, talks have spread of her doing today’s version of “The Battle of the Sexes.” Back in 1973, Billie Jean King battled Bobby Riggs for a $100,000 winner-take-all prize. The loud mouth Riggs, then 55 years old, claimed that he can handily defeat King, 26 years his junior. Billie Jean won, 6-4, 6-3, 6-3.

Can Serena beat, say, a long-retired Andre Agassi or Pete Sampras? I don’t think so. But it would be fun and would generate tremendous publicity, especially for the women’s game.

Is Serena one of the greatest ever? No doubt. She would rank among the Top 5, alongside Margaret Court, Steffi Graf, Martina Navratilova and Billie Jean King.

On prize money, she ranks No.1 as the female player who’s pocketed the most ever: around $66 million. That’s billions of pesos — and about the same amount Pacman will earn in 36 quick minutes.

33 years of honoring Cebu’s best

“I always turn to the sports pages first, which records people’s accomplishments. The front page has nothing but man’s failures.” – Earl Warren, former U.S. chief justice

I talk about these “back pages” because the women and men who report and publish sports stories have, for the past 33 years, practiced an unbroken tradition. We, the sportswriters, congregate and deliberate on the previous year’s best performers and, on one grand occasion, we honor these athletes and sportsmen for their outstanding feats.

The 33rd SAC-SMB Cebu Sports Awards will be this Tuesday, March 31, from 3 to 6 p.m. at the Activity Center of the Ayala Center Cebu. SAC stands for Sportswriters Association of Cebu while SMB is one of the nation’s largest conglomerates, San Miguel Brewery, Inc.

What we, the sportswriters, do is this: We meet several times, submit nominations via email; we research on the top achievers of the past year; from a long list, we trim down the names, classify whether last year’s victory was international or national until we decide on the final list of awardees. At the end of the deliberations, we have accumulated a full set of honorees. The Major Awardees, the Citation Awardees, and the Special Awardees, which include the Sportsman of the Year and the Presidential Awardee. Finally, among the list of over a hundred athletes, we award that one person who will be named “Athlete of the Year.” While all other names are announced beforehand, the suspense of this AOTY trophy is reserved until the very end, up on stage this Tuesday in Ayala, when his or her name will be announced.

I’ve been writing sports for 20 years now and, like Nimrod Quiñones, who’s been around even longer, I’ve been attending the Awarding for a long time. I recall Z Gorres in Casino Español, just months after his near-death Las Vegas scare, walking to the stage to receive his award with boxing godfather Tony Aldeguer as our guest of honor. Manny Pacquiao, Nonito Donaire and Gerry Peñalosa graced one star-studded affair.

Is the 33rd Cebu Sports Awards open to the public for free? Absolutely. Here are the honorees:

MAJOR AWARDEES: BASKETBALL: June Mar Fajardo and Aldrich Ramos. BEACH VOLLEYBALL: Edmar Bonono and Edward Ybañez. BOXING: Donnie Nietes. CHESS: Kim Steven Yap. CYCLING: Nino Surban and John Mier. Dancesport: Charlea Lagaras and Ronnie Vergara. FOOTBALL: Itsuko Bacatan, Alexandrea Gumilao, Arantxa Mari Trebol, Jan Reese Jumawan and Alexa Ceniza. GYMNASTICS: Daniella Reggie de la Pisa. JUDO: Kiyomi Watanabe. MUAY THAI: Joel Zaspa. RUNNING: Mary Joy Tabal. SOFTBALL: Isaac Bacarisas, Jasper Cabrera, Ben Maravilles, Oscar Bradshaw IV and Jerome Bacarisas. TABLE TENNIS: Richard Gonzales. TAEKWONDO: Clement Tan, MacAvyngr Alob, Nichole Maurin, Rinna Babanto and Glen Lava. TRIATHLON: Joseph Miller, Frederic Yuan Chiongbian and Aaliyah Ricci Mataragnon.

CITATION AWARDEES: ARCHERY: Lloyd Apawan and Vincent Villa. Athletics: Mike Lopez, Ninolito Justiane and Ivan Miguel Santos. BADMINTON: Zinah Marichelle Bejosa. BASKETBALL: SWU, Sacred Heart School-Ateneo de Cebu, UV Passerelle team, UV 16-Under team, Mark Tallo, Felixberto Jabonetta IV, Greg Slaughter, Jerick Canada, Kent Vincent Moral, Ken Gato, Arnie Christian Padilla, Andres Desiderio, Dave Yu, Leonard Santillan, Andrew Velasco and Mary Jean Pascual. BEACH VOLLEYBALL: Jade Becaldo, Louije Tipgos, UV, and SWU. BILLIARDS: Rubilen Amit and Warren Kiamco. BOWLING: Jomar Jumapao, Alexis Sy, Xyrra Cabusas, GJ Buyco and Alex Lagcao.

BOXING: Milan Melindo, Genesis Servania, Arthur Villanueva, Ian Refuela, Junrel Jimenez, Kit Garces, Jorge Edusma, Vicente Sios-e, Jr., John Nino Vega, Albert and Jason Pagara. CHESS: Elwin Retanal, Dwyane Abella, Kyle Sevillano, Jerish Velarde, Catherine Quinanola, and Laila Camel Nadera. CYCLING: Ica Maximo. DANCESPORT: Dancesport Team Cebu City. EXTREME SPORTS: Dandoy Tongco, Rafael Trinidad, Joshua and Jan Joseph Suson. FOOTBALL: Cviraa elem. team, Don Bosco futsal team, Joaquin Buyco, Charles Unabia, Enzo Ceniza, Yves Caballero, Jesse Semblante, Kyle Ronquillo, Marcel Ouano, Roygbiv Barro, and Leo Maquiling. GOLF: LJ Go and Charles Hong. JUDO: Joaquin Fernandez. KARTING: Vince Rojo and Craig Aleman.

KARATEDO: Nino Avilla, Precious Belicario, Charen Villamor, Karylle Perez, Hayashi-ha Shitoryukai team, and Rafael Vidal. MMA: Yawyan ArDigma. MOTOCROSS: Jon Eleazer Adlawan and BJ Pepito. MUAY THAI: Ken Caniga and Lara Jane Flores. RUGBY: Aiumi Ono, Madille Salinas and Cebu Lady Dragons. RUNNING: Maritess Bitbit, Brian Guillan, and Noel Tillor. SCRABBLE: Michael Tuba and Frances Lim. SEPAK TAKRAW: Rhey Ortouste and Metodio Suico. SWIMMING: Psalm Deniel Aquino, Ichiro Kong, and Lorendale Echavez. TABLE TENNIS: UC team, Berto Bas, and Sherlyn Love Gabisay. TAEKWONDO: Luiji Estrada, Veronica Garces, Mayn Corna, Zozen Prajes, Wendil Rama, and Dineson Caneda. TENNIS: Jan Godfrey Seno, Arthur Craig Pantino, Zethley Mae Alfrez, Shyne Villareal, Jana Pages and Jerico Bohol. TRIATHLON: Justin Chiongbian, John Philip Dueñas, Kristian Lim and Lorhiz Lopez. UNDERBONE: Simon Solon. VOLLEYBALL: Central Visayas team, Gretchel Soltones, Matthew Navace, and Isabel Molde. WEIGHTLIFTING: Leonida Cambajiran and Evangelit Ceniza. WRESTLING: Luis Ansag.

To all the awardees and to the sporting fans who want to witness the affair, see you on Tuesday!