AddedSport Scholars Program

I got an email from Niquie Angelo. As the Business Development Officer of AddedSport Scholars Program, Niquie is helping young top-notch athletes fulfill their dream of playing in a U.S. university. 

Niquie is the daughter of my good friend Robert Angelo, who, many years back, was the No. 1-ranked men’s tennis player in the Philippines.

Below is the email that Niquie sent entitled “AddedSport Scholars Program: Changing Lives Through Sports.”

LeBron James, Maria Sharapova, and Cristiano Ronaldo – world-famous legends in their own sport. But what do they all have in common? A disciplined attitude, the heart to commit, and a humble background.

Sports have the capacity to completely transform people’s lives. From pursuing a professional career to getting recruited into a good school abroad, opportunities abound for young athletes, especially in the US where the world of sport is taken so seriously. Their generous financial aid, intensive training, and high grade sporting facilities have produced some of the world’s top athletes in recent years. US college sports has definitely established itself as a stepping stone to the professional world and has become a privilege that many high school athletes aspire for today.

AddedSport, one of the leading sports management firms in Asia, consists of a team of ex-collegiate athletes who are passionate about opening opportunities and guiding junior athletes to achieve the same dreams of studying in the US and playing for some of the world’s most prestigious universities.

While US University coaches have concentrated most of their efforts recruiting in their own backyard and neighboring continents, a handful of Asian junior athletes have caught the eyes of these coaches from competitive programs. But the number remains insignificant because these are mostly composed of players that are top-ranked and are well-supported to get enough international exposure. For the past 5 years, AddedSport has sent hundreds of top athletes to the US for college sports. 

This year, the company seeks to go beyond Asia’s creme de la creme and discover gems that are hidden in more remote areas. We are delighted to launch the AddedSport Scholars Program. This initiative aims to develop the next wave of professional athletes from Asia through US college recruitment, focused on uncovering the hidden brilliance of the athletes who persevere despite their difficult socio-economic circumstances. The program applicants will go through a screening process which includes an assessment by a panel of expert sportspersons who are recognized for their contribution to their field.

Athletes chosen to be a part of the AddedSport Scholars Program will undergo an intense mentoring process involving both the academic and athletic aspects of their future careers. They will be guided by some of the most experienced professionals who are former national and/or ex-collegiate athletes themselves. The goal is to mould these participants to become highly sought after student-athletes who receive the best possible financial offers from US Universities, which will allow them to pursue their dreams.

We are looking for talented, hard-working, young athletes who are willing to commit to this program to start their journey towards a better future. If you think you have what it takes and will qualify, or know someone who would fit the requirements, please send us an email: niquie.angelo@addedsport.com.

#DreamBig with AddedSport!

 

2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup

Thirty two teams joined the FIBA World Cup and the Philippines placed 32nd. How worse could it have gotten? Well, as dejected as we’re feeling, there’s one other nation that’s more heartbroken: the United States.

With the U.S., anything less than gold is a failure. After back-to-back losses to France and Serbia, the Americans placed 7th. This is the worst international showing they’ve ever had. I repeat: Worst in history. 

But as Michael Jordan once said, “Always turn a negative situation into a positive situation.”

Which brings me to the excellent Facebook post last week of our new SunStar teammate Jonas Panerio: “The good news for basketball? There’ll be a new World Cup champion. The bad? Team USA’s VERY BEST will be at the 2020 Olympics.

Agree. Given this painful and embarrassing loss, the U.S. will assemble an All-Star cast and they’ll be unbeatable in Tokyo.

With Gilas Pilipinas, apologies have been given, starting with head coach Yeng Guiao, who resigned after the tournament.

Manny V. Pangilinan, the SBP chairman emeritus, said this upon his arrival from China: “We express our apology to the Filipinos because SBP is one with the national team. It’s our duty to apologize.” 

This is humbling. It’s also a reality check for our Pinoy players and fans. Prior to the event, we were given false hopes on how we’ll be competitive and maybe even score an upset (against Italy). In the end, Pres. Duterte was correct when he said that we have no chance against the Italians.

Despite our last place finish, the coming years will be exciting. Because even if we end up among the worst-performing teams again in the 32-squad line-up in 2023, what matters most is that we’re hosting. 

“We need to supply spectators and guests an experience like never before and demonstrate Filipino hospitality,” said the 73-year-old Pangilinan, who received the FIBA flag from Yao Ming (with Kobe Bryant nearby) in the turnover ceremony last Sunday. “Much pressure on our Gilas team though – which is good. Ergo, let’s do better.” 

The 2023 FIBA World Cup will be the second time that we’re hosting. The first was in 1978 when Yugoslavia defeated the Soviet Union. We had two venues then: Rizal Memorial Coliseum and Araneta Coliseum.

Four years from now, it’s back to the Smart Araneta Coliseum plus three more locations (MOA Arena, Philsports Arena and the 55,000-seater Philippine Arena, which will host the Final).

Officially, there are three host countries. But the main hosts will be the Philippines as Japan will only have one venue, a 10,000-seater in Okinawa, while Indonesia will have a small 7,000-seater in Jakarta.

Come 2023, we’re assured to win… thanks to our unrivaled Filipino hospitality.

19

This 2019, the significant number for tennis is 19. That’s the age of the US Open women’s champion Bianca Andreescu. And that’s the number of grand slam titles compiled by Rafael Nadal.

19. This ‘19.

Bianca Andreescu, to the non-tennis follower, is a new name. That’s because she’s only a teenager. And would you believe this: the US Open trophy that she won the other weekend? That was momentous because it was the first time ever for Andreescu to join the US Open. Imagine setting foot to play at the Arthur Ashe Stadium for the first time — and beating Serena Williams in the final!

This 2019 is also the Year of Canada. No Canadian male or female has ever won a grand slam title ever since Wimbledon started it all in 1877 — that’s 142 years ago. And lest we forget, the reigning NBA champions are the Raptors of Toronto. Hail, Canada!

With Andreescu, she started 2019 with a ranking of only 178 and now she’s world No. 5. 

As for Serena Williams, what a devastating loss. Of her last four appearances in a major final, she lost all four. 

A personal story on Serena: Twenty years ago last weekend, my dad Bunny and I were in New York City to watch her win her first major trophy. That was in 1999 and Serena was only 17. Since that moment two decades ago, she has won 23 majors. But the record-tying 24th (Margaret Court has 24 majors) will have to wait. Because of the 19-year-old Bianca.

That 1999 US Open is similar to 2019. Then-teenager Serena upset Martina Hingis to win her first major. Two decades later, teenager Bianca returns the favor and beats Serena. 

RAFA. 19 also refers to the man from Spain. What a final. Just when everybody thought that it would be an easy 3-sets victory for the lefty, the 6-foot-6 Daniil Medvedev resurrected from the NYC abyss to nearly score a major upset. 

I rank that championship as one of the most special for Nadal. When the 5th set started and Medvedev led 1-0 and had those break points, Rafa was at the precipice of losing. Fatigued and downtrodden by Medvedev’s net play and aggressive moves — and being pressured by the umpire with the shot clock — Rafa was so close to defeat. 

But the gladiator that he is, Rafa persevered and triumphed.

Had Nadal lost, it would have been devastating. As desolating as the loss of Roger Federer in the Wimbledon final, when he squandered two championship points and lost to Novak Djokovic. 

Viva, España! Speaking of Spain, it’s the FIBA World Cup final tonight and we’ll know if Nadal’s countrymen will be victorious against Argentina.

Spain vs. Argentina? FIBA or FIFA (football) World Cup? Ha-ha. Can be either. The final is set at 8 p.m. tonight. I know that Anton Perdices, the honorary consul of Spain, will be cheering for Marc Gasol and Ricky Rubio.

USA vs. Turkey

The Americans lost! After a 54-game winning streak in international competition (involving NBA players) dating back to 2006, the Americans lost!

Wait. They won. Ha? What happened two nights ago when USA played Turkey in the FIBA World Cup was one of the most incredible games that I’ve seen.

As time expired at the end of the game, Turkey led, 81-79. But Jayson Tatum was fouled beyond the arc at the buzzer. He converted two of three free throws. The game enters OT. At the end of overtime, Turkey was leading 92-91. They had ball possession and, in a sequence of events, had four attempts at the free throw line. They missed all four. Team USA had ball possession and with two seconds left, Khris Middleton was fouled, converted both free throws, and they escaped with a 93-92 win. 

A sure USA loss (everyone watching it was sure of the outcome) turned into a Harry Houdini-like escape and victory for the Americans.

“It really hurts,” said Turkey’s Furkan Korkmaz. “I think it was in our hands – not their hands.”

Turkey coach Ufuk Sarica added: “I need mental strength to overcome this.”

His facial expressions said it all. He was jumping and smiling in the final seconds when Turkey was about to score the incredible upset. So were most of the pro-Turkey crowd of 18,000 in Shanghai. But when Middleton converted those free throws to reverse the outcome, Sarica was heartbroken.

For Donald Trump’s team, this is good. But it’s also very bad. Because now the world knows how vulnerable this team is. If the world’s 17th-ranked team should have won that game against the world’s best, then noboby’s afraid of the US anymore.

“At the end of the day we won and that’s the biggest thing we can take away, said USA’s Joe Harris. “We can’t look too far ahead. We have to take care of business and see where things stack up.”

True. But the game revealed the inadequacies of this squad. They lack the sheer talent of previous US teams. And when Turkey defended them with a zone defense, they had difficulty scoring. Can you imagine the US facing Serbia, who are even bigger and more talented? 

As a side note, it was good to see a Pinoy in the midst of the game. Filipino referee Bong Pascual, who also officiated during the 2016 Rio Olympics, was one of the referees manning the game.

GILAS. After losing by 46 points against Italy and 59 against Serbia, the critics pounded on our Philippine team.

“What does it serve to the Philippine team to lose by this difference?” said Serbia’s coach Sasha Djordjevic. That’s an embarrassing statement, questioning our right to be part of this 32-nation World Cup. 

How we wished Jordan Clarkson was part of this team. Or Jayson Castro, the 5-foot-10 guard named one of Asia’s best when he led Gilas for seven years. Castro’s speed and three-point shooting are missing. 

On the positive side, what a performance by CJ Perez.

2020 Cebu Marathon

The date is “January 12, 2020.” That’s 133 days from today — the first day of the ‘Ber months. That’s also seven days before the grand Sinulog festival on Jan. 19, 2020. And it’s the morning when over 4,000 runners will pound the streets of Cebu City.

42K. 21K. 5K. Take your kilometer pick. Those are the distances that spell Marathon, Half-Marathon and 5-km. Fun Run.

Next weekend, from September 6 to 8, the registration of the 2020 Cebu Marathon will begin. It’s called “Race to Register.” It’s on a first-come, first-serve basis and the first 500 registrants will receive limited edition “In Training” Cebu Marathon shirts. The next 500 registrants will receive free movie passes from Ayala Center Cebu. This is all happening next weekend at the Active Zone of Ayala Center Cebu.

Registration fees are P1,400 for the half-marathon and P1,800 for the marathon. More details can be viewed at the Facebook page of the Cebu Marathon.

Only those who line-up and register onsite (at the Active Zone) will be eligible to receive the free items. (To make sure that the correct sizes are distributed to the early-bird registrants, the shirts will be ready for pick-up next month, in October.)

What’s new for 2020? The route is both new and old. For those who joined the inaugural 2010 marathon dubbed “01-10-10,” you may recall that the route included the iconic sights of the Magellan’s Cross and Plaza Independencia. The marathoners also descended into the tunnel and ran along the South Road Properties. The SRP was the main route in 2010 and for a good number of years until a few years ago when it was disallowed.

For 2020, the SRP is back. The full details will be announced soon but the planned route will be exciting. Let me reserve the surprise of the “old and new” course when this is formally announced in the coming weeks.

The Sinulog-themed entertainment will once again motivate the runners. Dancers will dance. Loud music will pump the ears and hearts. Drinks will overflow.

Why run the marathon? I am blessed to have completed six of these 42K runs (Singapore, Quezon City, Jacksonville, Cebu, New York, and Hong Kong) and they are some of the most painful yet fulfilling experiences of my life. Ask a friend who has finished the 42.195-km. distance and they’ll share with you their own memorable experiences.

The 42K run is an outrageous goal to accomplish; one that you’ll be proud to tell your grandkids in the future.

But I also caution: it’s not for everyone. First, have yourself thoroughly examined; the best is an Executive Check with a treadmill stress test. Second, if you don’t have the mileage, don’t do it. Not yet. Unless you’ve completed multiple 21Ks, you might not be ready for January. But if you’ve been a regular runner, then make sure to register this Friday.

As the runner Susan Sidoriak aptly put it: “I dare you to train for a marathon and not have it change your life.”

FIBA World Cup

Like the Olympics, the FIBA Basketball World Cup is held every four years. This Saturday (Aug. 31), the 16-day tournament begins in eight cities around China.

A total of 32 countries will contest this event which started in Argentina in 1950. The qualified nations include 7 from the Americas, 5 from Africa, 12 from Europe, and 8 from Asia and Oceania, including our Philippines.

The FIBA World Cup is important to our nation not only because we’re participating but because we’ll be co-hosting in 2023. Together with Indonesia and Japan, the 19th edition will come to our shores in four venues: Philippine Arena, MOA Arena, Philsports Arena, and Araneta Coliseum. (Had Cebu started construction of the SM Seaside Arena a few years ago, we’d be one of the hosts. Sayang!)

For China 2019, this is the first time that the world’s most populous nation is hosting. There will be 92 games played and this event also serves as a qualifying tournament for the 2020 Tokyo Games, with seven nations gaining direct entry to next year’s Olympics.

With our own Gilas Pilipinas, who will be flying to China today, it’s our second straight trip to the World Cup (last time was in Spain). We are in Group D together with Serbia, Italy and Angola and we’re playing in the city of Foshan in Guangdong. The format is round-robin and the top two teams of each group will advance.

This Saturday when the FIBA World Cup commences, we play our first game against Italy. Game time is 7:30 p.m. (Phil. time) and Pres. Rodrigo Duterte is expected to watch.

“We feel that’s our most important game – the Italy game,” said Gilas head coach Yeng Guiao. “So all our resources in terms of scouting, in terms of time has been focused on that.”

To qualify for Round 2 — given that Serbia will be too difficult for us — Gilas needs to beat Italy, who’ll be led by Marco Belinelli, Danilo Gallinari and Luigi Datome.

USA. The biggest sporting news erupted last week when Team USA lost to Australia, 98-94. Although it was non-bearing, nobody wants to lose, and the Americans had not lost an official or exhibition game (involving NBA players) since Sept. 2006.

How dominant are (or were) the Americans in basketball? In the 2014 FIBA World Cup, they won their nine games by an average margin of 33 points. Of course, that squad included Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, James Harden, Kyrie Irving and Anthony Davis.

This 2019, Team USA has.. Myles Turner, Joe Harris, and Derrick White. Who? This is obviously the most star-lacking US team in recent history.

Which will make China 2019 exciting and competitive. There’s Nikola Jokic of Serbia (whom the Philippines will be facing on Sept. 2). There are the Antetokounmpo brothers Giannis and Thanasis of Greece. Marc Gasol and Ricky Rubio are representing Spain. More than 50 NBA players are competing.

“We’ve learned,” said the USA’s Donovan Mitchell, “that this is going to be a dogfight.”

Let the China games begin.

Roger, Rafa and Novak

Federer, Nadal and Djokovic are their family names and no triumvirate in all of sports has been as dominant.

How commanding has been the Big Three’s supremacy?

Since the 2003 Wimbledon Championships, the trio has triumphed in 53 of the 64 majors. That’s a success rate of 83 percent. And aren’t there hundreds of millions of tennis players worldwide? All of whom can do the same: smash a forehand and slice a backhand? And only three have snatched almost every Grand Slam trophy in the past 16 years? Yes, yes, yes.

If we include Stan Wawrinka and Andy Murray (who’ve both won three majors apiece), they have won 57 of the last 60 majors. And other than those five names, only three others (Marin Cilic, Gaston Gaudio and Juan Martin del Potro) have won a major title in the past 15 years.

“Rafa takes care of the clay there. Novak is in every Masters 1000 on hard court. I float around,” said Roger Federer in an interview last month. “You add Murray to it, Stan to it, guys that made their move later on, del Potro to it, you realise there’s not that much to get.”

Roger’s right. Whatever happened to Zverev, Thiem, Nishikori, Raonic, Kyrgios and the dozens of other Next-Gen players who were promoted to replace the oldies?

For the Big 3, their reign may be termed by various words: Dominance. Longevity. Excellence. Roger, 38 years old, Rafa (33) and Novak (32) are three of the greatest ever athletes who’ve wielded a tennis racket.

Federer owns 20 majors. Nadal has 18. Djokovic lurks with 16.

Which brings us to the Grand Slam event to be played in New York City starting tomorrow and for the next two weeks: the US Open.

I hope Roger collects his sixth crown in NYC. Given how he lost Wimbledon (by squandering those two match points to Novak), it would be a fitting redemption for him to win. But this may be unlikely. Because…

Rafa Nadal has the momentum. He won the last major (Roland Garros) and the Montreal Masters 1000 two weeks ago. He’s favored to add a fourth trophy to add to his wins in 2010, 2013 and 2017.

But among the three, it’s the Serbian world number one who’s the likeliest winner. The defending champ, the 32-year-old Djokovic has won four of the last five majors. And on hard-courts, it’s hard to bet against the man who’s accumulated over $135 million in prize money.

My choice? None of the above. I hope a Stefanos Tsitsipas or Daniil Medvedev or Karen Khachanov wins the US Open. As the saying goes: Give chance to others..

 

Alex Honnold

There’s a documentary that you ought to watch. It’s terrifying. It will make your palms sweat. It’s a true story horror film that’s impossible to fathom. It’s death-defying.

Free Solo is the title of the 1-hour, 40-minute film (by National Geographic) and it’s a story of how one man escaped death by climbing one of the planet’s most incredible of rock formations: El Capitan.

Alex Honnold is the real-life actor and climber of this incredible film that won the “Best Documentary Feature” in the recent 91st Academy Awards.

The 34-year-old Honnold did not just climb the 3,000-foot rock formation nicknamed “El Cap,” he climbed it from base to summit without the use of any rope. Yes, climbing the granite mountain with his bare hands.

One slip, one false grip, one momentary lapse of judgement and he could have easily fallen.

But Alex Honnold survived. And the documentary Free Solo was made to record his preparation, anxieties, injuries (leading to the climb) and his actual nerve-wracking climb.

My best friends Dr. Ronald Eullaran and James Co, together with Raycia and Jewel and their children, visited the Yosemite National Park a couple of months ago. When I asked about El Capitan, they were in awe talking about the 90-degrees-steep, all-granite, 914-meter-tall rock monolith.

Rock climbing is a popular sport around the world. There’s indoor wall-climbing (Metro Sports Center, among others, has a facility). There’s outdoor adventure climbing. Here in Cebu, there are a good number of rock climbers who love the thrill of walking vertically. I’ve read about Cantabaco in Toledo City.

Which brings me back to “Free Solo.” The risk of slipping and falling in a near-vertical climb is extremely high. And safety is the number one goal of every rock climber.

Not Alex Honnold. Never mind if he was repeatedly told that he could die, he trained his mind and body to be positive and to perfect the El Capital climb.

So here’s the good and the bad of the documentary. It’s a film that’s extremely good and thrilling (scoring a 97% rating in the Rotten Tomatoes scorecard). The bad part? People will be inspired to follow Alex Honnold and climb “free solo.”

Richard Lawson, a writer for Vanity Fair, said in his review of the film: “I left the theater invigorated and rattled, in awe of this charismatic man’s accomplishment but scared that it will inspire others to attempt the same…”

My advice? Watch the documentary. But don’t ever, ever attempt to climb without that rope, harness, helmet and safety gear.

2019 SEA Games

Exactly 104 days remain before the Philippines hosts the 2019 Southeast Asian Games. Held every two years with 11 nations participating, the last time our country hosted was in 2005. This will be the fourth time we’ll host the SEA Games, having also welcomed the athletes in 1981 and 1991.

From November 30 (when the Opening Ceremony kicks off in the Philippine Arena) until the flame gets extinguished in the Closing Ceremony in the brand-new Athletic Stadium in Clark on December 11, over 9,000 athletes will compete in the 12-day meet.

Cebu? Ha-ha. We’re far from any action. Twelve years ago when the SEAG was held in our archipelago, Cebu hosted three events: dancesport (Waterfront Lahug), sepak takraw (USC gym) and penchak silat (Cebu Coliseum). This 2019, we’re hosting zero events.

Luzon gets the honor to host all the 530 events from 56 sports. The three main hubs are in Metro Manila, in Subic and in Clark.

At the center of the games is the New Clark City Sports Hub, located in Tarlac. This is the spot where the 20,000-seater Athletics Stadium is found.

Nearby is the 2,000-seater Aquatics Center, a world-class facility complete with a 10-lane Olympic-standard pool and an 8-lane training pool. Billions of pesos (news reports have said between P3 to P6 billion) have been poured into funding this new sports complex. Lucky for Clark.

Metro Manila gets to host majority of the more popular events like basketball (Mall of Asia Arena), volleyball (Ninoy Aquino Stadium), badminton (Makati) and boxing (PICC). The Rizal Memorial Sports Complex has been furiously undergoing renovations; it will host tennis, squash, football, taekwondo and weightlifting.

The SEAG has an approved budget of P7.5 billion.

Here’s an intriguing game: Obstacle course. Yes, the game that’s often played in family gatherings or team-building exercises is one of the unique events offered this December. And for those familiar with UP Diliman, the six events under the Obstacle Course Racing (OCR) sport will be held at the Sunken Garden! How exciting is that.

Esports is making its debut at the SEA Games. I’m no gamer but the six titles to be played are “Mobile Legends: Bang Bang,”  “Arena of Valor,” “DoTA 2,” “Hearthstone,” “StarCraft II,” and “Tekken 7.” The venue will be inside the FilOil Flying V Sports Arena in San Juan.

With 530 events coming from 56 sports, the 2019 SEA Games will be a sports fanatics dream-come-true spectacle. And, for sure, there will be several athletes from the nearly 10,000 competitors who’ll see action at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics next year.

How will the host Philippines do overall? The goal is lofty. To aim is to win that No. 1 spot — the same spot we achieved back in 2005 when we won the overall trophy.

The problem is, not until last week when the PSC and POC and the other sports bodies finally got together and got united, it was all squabbling and “sports politics” among our leaders. Our hope is that all this fighting will not hamper our hosting preparations and will not dampen the motivation of our athletes.

Go, Pilipinas.

Trash Talk

Basketball is as American as cheeseburgers, Donald Trump, baseball and Apple’s iPhone, right? Not exactly. Basketball is Canadian-invented.

James Naimsmith, born in Ontario, Canada in 1861, was the P.E. teacher who invented the game of basketball. Thus, it’s fitting that the NBA champions this year come from…

Canada? Why not. Out of the NBA’s 30 teams, all but one is not U.S.-based. And that one might be No. 1.

Given how the Toronto Raptors dominated the Golden State Warriors in Game 1 and given how Drake and his 37-million strong fellow Canadians are praying that Kevin Durant’s injury doesn’t completely heal this June, what seemed an impossibility is now possible.

Canada might win its first NBA title. Game 2 tomorrow is the most crucial 48 minutes of this series. If Klay and Steph combine for 70 and Draymond seeks revenge from Drake’s hurtful words and records another triple-double and Igoudala is free of his calf injury and contributes tomorrow for a Golden State win, then the basketball planets will be aligned and will rotate back to its original axis. The Warriors will win, 4-2.

But if Toronto rouses Kyle Lowry from his sleep (he only had seven points in Game 1) and Kawhi scores 35 (compared to the measly 23) and Justin Trudeau is up 2-0 versus Donald Trump, then it’s advantage Raptors.

“I don’t think we played our ‘A’ game,” said Warriors coach Steve Kerr of Game 1. “I think that’s obvious.”

What we witnessed was a rusty Warriors. Maybe it was the nine-days-off from their last game (three days of which were taken off completely). Maybe it was the quickness of the Raptors. (“They definitely have a lot of speed,” said Draymond Green.) The Warriors’ 17 turnovers didn’t help.

Most of all, Durant’s presence was sorely missed, despite them previously scoring a 5-0 record without him.

More on KD’s injury: I experienced the same pain while playing basketball five years ago. I was my fellow Brotherhood of Christian Businessmen and Professionals (BCBP) members in Bright Academy and, as I turned to sprint to the opposite court, I felt a sharp kick in my calf. Someone had kicked me! I looked around and nobody did. I hobbled. Good thing that I was able to see Dr. Tony San Juan, our top sports doctor, within hours after I writhed in pain. I had to stop running for months.

It’s been one month since Durant’s calf strain and the final outcome of this series might depend on KD’s return. (Sources have said that he’ll probably be back in time for Game 4.)

As for all this “trash talk,” the NBA and the Philippines have got something in common. While Canada’s trash — all 69 containers of garbage — were shipped back to Vancouver from Manila the other day, Drake and Draymond were having their own trash-talking. This verbal tussle did not start during the NBA Finals. It began last year when, as host of the NBA Finals, the Toronto-born Drake roasted Draymond Green’s attire when the latter won the Defensive Player of the Year award. Check out the YouTube video.

Rafael Nadal: King of Clay

(Photo by Thomas Samson/AFP)

 

Here in Cebu, majority of our tennis courts are clay courts. Unlike volleyball or golf or basketball where, anywhere you play around the world, the court surface hardly varies, in tennis, it’s different.

Grass. Hard court. Shell. Artificial turf. Clay. Tennis offers a variety of surfaces. But here in the Queen City of the South, our predominant surface is clay. The reason: clay (hardened “anapog”) is softer on our knees and you’re less prone to leg injuries.

On clay, there is one human being who is the undisputed heavyweight champion.

He turns 33 on June 3, hails from the resort island of Mallorca, and is scheduled to get married to his long-time girlfriend Xisca Perello this October.

Rafa. That simple nickname will evoke despair and anxiety among his ATP counterparts when the only Grand Slam event played on clay begins today.

The 6-foot-1, 187-lb. Spaniard owns an unbelievable 86 wins out of 88 matches at the French Open. That’s a 97.72 percent winning clip.

On his first attempt to play on Paris’ red clay back in 2005, he hoisted the trophy. Same on his second try. And on the third and fourth. Of the multiple trips that he’s ventured inside Stade Roland Garros, he’s only lost twice: to Robin Soderling (2009) and Novak Djokovic (2016). Rafael Nadal owns 11 Roland Garros trophies.

Last week, after he won the Italian Open in Rome (Nadal’s first 2019 title), the overwhelming favorite in France is the Spaniard. But there are two others that I consider as strong contenders.

Novak Djokovic has won the last three majors (Wimbledon, the US Open and the Australian Open). In that last slam in Melbourne, he humiliated Nadal in a quick 3-setter that lasted a mere 124 minutes. Djokovic has extra motivation in Paris: he’ll be aiming for the “Djoker Slam” — winning four straight majors.

Dominic Thiem is the third contender. At the French Open, he reached the finals last year (handily losing to Nadal) and the semis in 2016 and 2017. He has also beaten Nadal (on clay) four times.

My pick in Paris? The answer is obvious. I’ve always been a huge Rafa fan. His relentless all-out effort on court coupled with his smiling and good-natured attitude off the court makes him a global sports ambassador. Much like Roger Federer — who’ll be making a comeback after skipping the red clay for the last three years.

Rafa and Roger can meet in the semis. They’re both in the lower half of the draw together with another rising star, the Greek 6-foot-4 with the style and one-handed prowess of Federer. He’s Stefanos Tsitsipas.

At the upper half of the draw are Djokovic and Thiem plus a slew of strong (and tall, both 6-foot-6) players, Alexander Zverev and Juan Martin del Potro.

But the Spaniard aiming for his 12th title in Paris is the odds-on choice.

“I think Rafa Nadal is the huge favourite,” said Dominic Thiem, “and then after that, there are also five, six players who can win the tournament. So it’s gonna be very interesting two weeks.”

June Mar Fajardo

Two years ago during the 35th SAC-SMB Cebu Sports Awards, I had the privilege of sitting beside Fred Uytengsu, Jr. (the Sportsman of the Year awardee) and, to my right, the country’s most famous athlete not named Manny Pacquiao.

Standing 6-foot-11, is there a larger-than-life figure than June Mar Fajardo? That afternoon in SM City Cebu, the Pinamungajan-raised sports giant was quiet and almost shy, despite all eyes and cameras transfixed to his 250-lb. large frame.

Alongside Gabriel Elorde and Mon Fernandez, June Mar ranks among the greatest of Cebuano athletes. And with his PBA records that include being a five-time MVP, talks are circulating that he can be the all-time greatest Pinoy cager.

Last Wednesday, June Mar did it again. I watched most of Game 7 of the Philippine Cup between Magnolia and San Miguel and the colossal figure was unstoppable. He scored 17 points (only) but pulled down 31 rebounds, beating the previous record of 29 rebounds set by Marcelo Simbulan in 1975. Thirty one rebounds!

The game was a thriller. Down by as much as 17 points, the Beermen looked tentative and uptight — made worse when they scored a miserly five points in the 2nd quarter.

But SMB rebounded back — thanks to the rebounds of June Mar, erasing the lead and winning when the buzzer sounded, 72-71, for a fifth straight All-Filipino crown for Ramon Ang’s team.

“All the championships are hard,” said June Mar, “but this series ranks among the hardest.”

The game was not without controversy. There appeared to be several non-calls (fouls) that went against Magnolia. I thought that June Mar’s bump against Marc Barroca was an offensive foul — which could have reversed the outcome in favor of Magnolia. Even in the last play of Jio Jalalon, it looked like he was fouled and, with a couple of free throws, would have cost SMB the win.

“(The game) went down the wire, it was anybody’s ball game,” said Rafi Reavis of Magnolia. “But we all know who got the short end of the stick.”

I sympathize with Magnolia but also understand the referees; in those last few moments of a Game 7, the natural tendency is not to blow the whistle and decide the outcome by intervening.

Controversy or not, what’s unquestionable is the supremacy of June Mar, who picked up his third Finals MVP award. What’s also indisputable is how kind and humble June Mar has remained.

Recalling a chat that I had with Atty. Gus Go many years ago, the owner of the University of Cebu had this to say about his prized student:

“Before the PBA Rookie Draft, when he was selected by Petron as the top pick, he came to my office in UC. He was so thankful. But I told him, ‘No, it is I who should say thank you for all that you have brought to our school.’”

Only 29 years old, June Mar will continue to dominate. He might pull down 40 rebounds and score 40. No human being who can stop him except…

Spider-Man. Ha? Confused? Google that crazy May 10 incident that almost injured The Kraken.

Warriors still golden

The NBA is composed of 30 teams. After the season tipped-off last October 16, a total of 1,230 regular season games were played in the U.S. and Canada (Toronto). From the original 30, a total of 14 teams were eliminated. Only the top 8 squads per conference qualified to join the playoffs, which began last April 13.

From the 16 teams that entered the NBA Playoffs, we’re down to 8. If this were another sport, it’s called the quarterfinals. What comments can we deduce so far?

One, the Golden State Warriors is Number One. Led by the unstoppable force named Kevin Durant, GSW is, by far, the team poised to collect their 4th NBA ring in five years. There are websites that provide real-time odds and, after their 2-0 lead against the Houston Rockets, the Warriors are now -200 favorites to win the title. (Your $200 bet will win you only $100.)

Durant. Curry. Thompson. Green. Igoudala. How can you bet against this formation? They’re the Avengers and, for everyone else, it’s an end game.

The Houston Rockets, we thought (and many hoped), would topple the Warriors, like they almost did last year. But that’s looking unlikely. Chances are, after extinguishing the team of James Harden and Chris Paul, the next challenge for GSW in the Western Finals will be easy prey.

Denver or Portland? What a scintillating 4OT game yesterday! But either team won’t pose a major Thanos-like problem for Golden State.

The East is more exciting. After stealing Game 1 in Milwaukee, we expected the Boston Celtics to sustain the momentum and overwhelm Giannis Antetokounmpo. Given the erratic wins and losses of the Celtics in the regular season, what we witnessed in the playoffs was the rejuvenated Celtics. They swept the Indiana Pacers and extinguished the Bucks in Game 1 for a 5-game winning streak.

Celtics all the way to the NBA Finals, right? Not so fast. They lost Game 2 and lost again at TD Garden yesterday. It’s back to the same erratic performances for Boston.

My choice in the East? The 76ers. Back in November, my wife Jasmin and I had the chance to watch Philadelphia play the Atlanta Hawks at the Wells Fargo Arena. The experience was electrifying. Joel Embiid, JJ Redick and Ben Simmons were the stars. Then they added Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris. Today, they’re much stronger and are leading the Toronto Raptors, 2-1.

My forecast? Warriors-Trail Blazers and Bucks-76ers; Warriors-76ers in the final with California winning again.

The side talk has been on the 2019-2020 season given the list of the upcoming free agents: Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard, Klay Thompson, Kristaps Porzingis, Kemba Walker and Jimmy Butler.

Imagine the scenario of Zion Williamson landing with the Knicks and Durant and Irving joining the rookie in New York? This will vault the lowest-performing team (17-65 this season) into the top spot.

For Lakers fans, how about Kawhi joining LeBron? Or is Kawhi flying to LA but the other LA team: the Clippers? The possibilities are irrestible.

Eliud Kipchoge

(Photo: Getty Images)

Have you heard of his name before? If you’re a marathoner and you’re updated on the news on running, the answer is yes.

Eliud Kipchoge is the world’s greatest ever long-distance runner. He has joined 12 marathon races in his lifetime and won 11 times. The 2016 Rio Olympics? He won marathon gold.

The 34-year-old’s greatest achievement happened in Sept. last year when he broke the world record in the Berlin Marathon. His time of 2 hours 1 minute and 39 seconds broke the previous record by a staggering 78 seconds. (That was the single largest improvement in marathon times in 50 years.) His 2:1:39 time also means that he is only 100 seconds away from recording the long-awaited “sub-2 marathon” (running 42.195 kms. in under two hours).

Eliud Kipchoge will once again run the 42K today in the London Marathon in what is billed as the best-ever assembly of runners.

Daniel Wanjiru and Wilson Kipsang are competing but Kipchoge’s biggest nemesis is Mo Farah, from the UK, who’ll be running in front of a hometown crowd. A 4-time Olympic gold medalist (in the 5,000 and 10,000 meter races), Farah also won the 2018 Chicago Marathon.

Kipchoge vs. Farah. This is the mano-a-mano spectacle with the fighters running on Nike shoes and sleeveless shirts.

Kipchoge is the huge favorite. He is the 3-time London Marathon defending champion and the man who starred in the Breaking2 project of Nike where the Kenyan clocked 2:00:25 in Monza, Italy in 2017.

As physically-gifted as Kipchoge is (he stands 5-foot-5 and weighs 123 lbs.), he credits his mental strength as his greatest power.

“The mind is what drives a human being,” said Kipchoge. “If you have that belief – pure belief in your heart – that you want to be successful then you can talk to your mind and your mind will control you to be successful. My mind is always free. My mind is flexible. That is why I wear this band on my wrist. I want to show the world that you can go beyond your thoughts, you can break more than you think you can break.”

Because of his triumphs and the appearance fees that he collects plus his collection of corporate endorsements, Kipchoge is multi-millionaire rich. But he lives simply. For an estimated 300 days each year, he trains in a tiny village in Kenya (Kaptagat), far from his three children and wife Grace. He prefers the “living simply sets you free” mantra and even reportedly helps his running mates in cleaning the restroom.

“I enjoy the simplistic training and life in marathon,” Kipchoge said. “You run, eat, sleep, walk around – that’s how life is. You don’t get complicated. The moment you get complicated it distracts your mind.”

Can he break the world record or, incredibly, run sub-2 today? That is unlikely because London is not as fast a course as Berlin. But listening to Kipchoge is hearing a man in love with this sport.

“My dream is to make this world a running world,” he said. “A running world is a healthy world. A running world is a wealthy world. A running world is a peaceful world. A running world is a joyful world.”

Tiger and The Masters

(Getty Images)

When we had dinner a couple of Saturdays ago at the house of my neighbor Andre Borromeo, I posed this question to a group of Cebu’s top golfers. There was Atty. Jovi Neri, Marko Sarmiento and Bayani Garcia. All are former club champions of the Cebu Country Club.

Can Tiger Woods win another major?

The response was easy: Yes.

These diehard TW fans reminded me of his 2018 Tour Championship win. They were confident, despite knowing that Eldrick Tont Woods was already 43 years old, that Tiger would win someday.

Will “someday” be Sunday? As you read this, the third round of golf’s most illlustrous tournament has concluded. I don’t know how Tiger performed on Saturday but for the first two rounds of The Masters, he was as good as anyone.

He shot a 2-under 70 last Thursday and a 4-under 68 last Friday for a 6-under scorecard midway through the event held in Augusta, Georgia. He’s just one shot behind the leaders.

Unfortunately for Tiger, the leaderboard is littered with a who’s-who of former major champions: Scott, Oosthuizen, Molinari, Jason Day and one of the hottest players today, Brooks Koepka, who has won three of the last six majors that he’s played.

But the golf stage this weekend belongs to Tiger. One incident highlighted the second round: After his approach shot on the 14th hole, Tiger was nearly mobbed by the crowd as a security guard sprinted towards Tiger and slipped, hitting Tiger’s right foot and nearly injuring the golfer.

Can you imagine if Tiger sprained his ankle and had to retire because of an injury? Another injury! But, no, Tiger’s shot landed 20 feet from the hole and he calmly putted it for birdie.

“Accidents happen,” Tiger said. “I’ve had galleries run over me, it’s just, you know, when you play in front of a lot of people, things happen.”

The security officer had a more amusing response: “Well, he made birdie, so I guess it all worked out. Man, I am really glad he made birdie.”

If Tiger’s lucky out-of-the-woods escape and good fortunes continue this weekend and he wins the 85th Masters, it will be one of sport’s greatest combacks.

Consider this: Tiger is 43 years old. Although Jack Nicklaus was 46 when he won The Masters exactly 33 years ago, very few 40-plus year-olds win major titles. The last time Tiger won a major was the 2008 US Open.

Injury after injury; scandal after scandal.. Tiger’s playing some of his best golf.

“If he wasn’t Tiger Woods and you didn’t know him, say he was a guy coming off the web.com Tour, you’d say: ‘This is a guy who is gonna win at any time,’” said Tommy Fleetwood. “So I wasn’t that surprised when he did but I think it’s an amazing comeback, from not being able to swing a club or even move. He showed at the Tour Championship that, once he gets it in play, he is the best iron player in the world. It’s sometimes easy to forget that he is the greatest golfer of all time, you just judge him as a competitor.”

Let’s hope Tiger’s someday is Sunday.

  

Mount Zion

(Getty Images)

On TV, I rarely watch live sports nowadays. Unless it’s a major spectacle like the upcoming Warriors-76ers NBA Finals or a La Salle-Ateneo UAAP game 3 or a Rafa-Roger contest in New York, I opt to visit one of the world’s most visited websites: YouTube.

Here’s what I do: I don’t scan the results and wait 40 minutes after any sporting event has finished and it’s right there, an 11-minute summary of the game. It has zero commercials and nobody misses! Every attempt on YouTube is a good shot.

Yesterday, that’s what I did. It was the Sweet 16 of the NCAA basketball tournament between Duke University and Virginia Tech. I rarely followed the NCAA games in the past but this year is extra special.

Zion Lateef Williamson. If you’re a basketball fan, it’s a must that you watch Zion. (Google offers 4.6 million videos on the phenom.)

Zion is an 18-year-old Duke University freshman who stands 6-foot-7 and weighs 285 lbs. But what separates him from the dozens of other college dribblers are his LeBron James-like physique, his jumping ability, his left-handed aggressive moves, his gravity-defying block shots and his rim-shattering dunks (including dunking from the free throw line).

Zion has the bulk and size of a power forward but he struts like a point guard.

“What strikes me?” LeBron James was asked. “His agility and his quickness. For his size, how strong he is, to be able to move like the way he moves, he’s very impressive. I mean, everybody can see the athleticism. That’s obviously, that’s ridiculous. But the speed and the quickness that he moves (with) at that size is very impressive.”

Against Virginia Tech yesterday, the No. 1 seed Duke triumphed 75-73. Zion scored 23 points, including an alley-oop dunk that’s ridiculous.. catching the ball at a ceiling-high elevation before slamming it home with both hands. The TV announcer then quipped, “How high can you go?”

How high can Zion go? He is surely going to be the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft. The joke around the NBA is this: #NotTryinForZion. It means the worst-performing NBA teams are purposely losing so they’ll get a better chance of drafting him.

Duke and Zion are in the NCAA Last 8 and will play Michigan State tomorrow (Phil. time).

If Zion helps coach Mike Krzyzewski win his sixth NCAA title for the Blue Devils, it will elevate Zion to a stature as the best-ever collegiate player of his generation.

What makes Zion a potential global superstar is his type of game: he flies and dunks with the ferocity of a Darryl Dawkins. Of these alley-oops, of which he has recorded dozens this season, Zion said yesterday after the game: “I’m jumping not knowing where the rim is.”

Zion can shoot a good 3. And, the most controversial happening this season, he can also break open a Nike shoe, injuring his foot.. which was such bad publicity for Nike that the company’s shares dropped by $3 billion. That’s the power of Zion.

Women, not we, men

In majority of sporting endeavors, the majority of participants are men. This is understandable. Men are generally stronger, more muscular and athletic than the women

Not last night. Not last Friday as we celebrated the International Women’s Day and not this Women’s Month of March.

AWUM, it’s called, and the full spelling is All Women Ultra Marathon. It’s not a 5K, 35K or 15K; it’s much more. It’s 50,000 meters of running.

A total of 350 AWUM women braved the city streets of Lapu-Lapu, Cebu and Mandaue last night. They started at 10 p.m. The fastest runners to finish will be speedy (Lizane Abella set the course record last year, clocking 4 hours and 21 minutes). But majority will take a relaxed jogging pace, finishing around 6 a.m. The cutoff is at 8 a.m., giving the ladies 10 hours to complete 50K.

Unlike larger events like the Cebu Marathon or the 7-Eleven Run, the roads are not closed. The women will have to wear blinking lights gear and strap neon stickers and run on the roadside. They’re brave.

One of the participants is my beautiful wife Jasmin. I recall us visiting the starting line of AWUM several years ago at the Cebu City Hall and Jasmin declaring that she’ll run the event someday. That someday is today and she’s accompanied by her dear friend Jewel Co.

And, as if running 50 kms. is not challenging enough, the route is difficult. It will include four climbs: first is the climb up Busay all the way to the U-turn point in the Busay Barangay Hall; on the latter part of the race are three of Cebu’s bridges: Cansaga, Marcelo Fernan and the Mactan-Mandaue Bridge. These superwomen — running 50 kms. the entire night — are fearless.

What will help motivate the ladies is the presence of 28 volunteer running groups who will spread themselves every 1.5 kms. to feed, massage, hydrate, “retouch” and put on make up on the tired but lovely faces of the ladies.

I attended the Race Kit collection and Race Briefing last Friday night at the garden of Ayala Center Cebu (across Belo) and it was a celebration of womanhood.

Joel Garganera, the Cebu City councilor who is the founder of AWUM (together with race director Dr. Willie Estepa and the group ThinkTank), spoke to motivate the crowd.

Of the 350 AWUM runners this 2019, a whopping 40 percent are first-timers.

“AWUM virgins!” Garganera calls these bravehearts who’ll be running their first AWUM 50K.

Bravery? Toughness? Willingness to endure pain? Grace under agony and discomfort? Resilience? Grit? They all spell W-O-M-E-N.

As the Greek philosopher Socrates once said: “Once made equal to man, woman becomes superior.”

We, men, bow to the women.

At the finish: Annie Diano, Jewel Co, Jasmin Pages and Cindy Lumindas

  

CSA – Bulacan

Where is the best tennis facility in our 7,107 islands? If you answered Cebu (no way!), Rizal Memorial in Manila (not anymore), Subic (yes, but once upon a long time) or PCA in Manila (no), you guessed it all wrong.

The answer? Bulacan. Yes, the province in Central Luzon that’s a couple of hours travel from Metro Manila.

The Colegio San Agustin (CSA) – Bulacan, the sprawling 20-hectare school that was built just three years ago, houses the country’s best tennis courts.

The total budget — based on what I heard — was P1 billion. This amount includes a mix of world-class sports facilities. There’s an indoor basketball gymnasium that seats at least 3,000. An Olympic size swimming pool. There’s a standard football rectangle and track oval. Plus several other top-notch sports facilities.

All are housed in a gigantic structure that looks like a spaceship (or a giant mall) from afar. And, at the topmost floor of the multi-level building are 11 tennis courts. Five courts on each side complete with bleachers and, at the far end, a center court that’s surrounded by its own seats. The 11 courts are all indoor and hard-court and they carry specs that’s similar to international standards.

Last weekend, my wife Jasmin and I were in Bulacan. For the first time in the history of the UAAP (now on its 81st year), the tennis matches are being played in CSA-Bulacan. In years past, the games were held at the Rizal Memorial Stadium, right beside La Salle and several universities.

Last year, when the players and school officials first heard of the move to transfer the games to Bulacan, complaints reverberated. That’s too far away.. a two-hour-plus drive! they hollered.

But as the games started and the 10 simultaneous matches were played (instead of the six in Rizal) and the indoor roof shaded the already-tan-skinned players, the gripes turned to praises. (Our daughter Jana represents Ateneo and they’re carrying a 2-1 win-loss record.)

The CSA-Bulacan indoor tennis stadium opened only last year. And, as evidence of that, many of the sturdy plastic chairs in the bleachers were still covered with plastic. The whole school is huge. Since they opened the campus in 2015, there are a few students thus far.. only 110 students in the elementary and high school levels. But the long-term goal is to have a full-scale university that will include college courses. The campus houses a building with dormitory rooms and a sizable chapel that seats hundreds.

From what I heard, the property (located in the city of San Jose del Monte) was donated by the Araneta family to CSA and the school raised the funds for the multi-billion project. It is situated beside the Ayala Land Inc. 98-hectare project called Altaraza.

Build it and they’ll come. That’s the overriding message that strikes me when I think about the humongous sports school project. Even if it’s located far from Metro Manila, they built it. And my bet is that, in the long-term, with the growth spreading outside the metropolis and better transportation systems are in place, this CSA-Bulacan sporting heaven will thrive.

40 is the new 20

Manny Pacquiao is 40 years old. Roger Federer turns 38 this August. LeBron James missed 17 games for the first time in his 15-year career — a sign of his aging 34-year-old body. Tiger Woods is 43. He’s improving and my hunch is that he’s poised to win a major this 2019. One more example of the old-but-still-the-best athlete?

Tom Brady. It’s Super Bowl LIII tomorrow (Phil. time) in Atlanta, Georgia and the protagonists are the Los Angeles Rams and the New England Patriots. The leader of the Pats is, as we all know, their quarterback. A five-time Super Bowl champ, he is the Michael Jordan of the National Football League.

Tom Brady is 41 years old. For a sport that’s one of this planet’s most physical, Tom Brady’s endurance is phenomenal. The NFL is rough and ruthless. Imagine a 320-lb. linebacker sprinting 21-kph to smash an easy target? Tom Brady has faced that kind of assault since he started in 2000. And despite being 41, the 6-foot-4, 225 lb. Brady is still American football’s unparalled top dog.

Among us, the mortals and ordinary exercisers, the same pattern has emerged. If you survey the ages of those doing the Ironman 70.3 race, the average age isn’t 21 or 29. You see plenty of 40- and 50-year-olds. In the grueling 42K race called the 2019 Cebu Marathon, the 31 to 40 age bracket was a high 34 percent of all participants. For the 41 to 50 years old, the figure was 23 percent. In total, the ones aged 31 to 50 comprised 57 percent of all CCM runners.

Why is it possible for “old” athletes to excel?

First, the elite athletes are able to pace themselves better. Take the case of Roger Federer. Instead of playing every single ATP event, he chooses a handful of the most important and only joins those. He even skips the strenuous clay-court season (including the French Open) to rest his body for Wimbledon’s soft grass or the hard court of the US Open.

Two, better physical training. Given all the advances in physical therapy and conditioning, top athletes today are less likely to get injured. Or, if they do, the recovery is quicker. (Not the case, though, for LeBron or Andy Murray.)

Three, there are some people who are just one-in-a-billion. Take Pacquiao. At 40, he’s supposed to be long retired, having fought in 70 pro fights. (As comparison, Oscar de la Hoya retired after 45 fights.) But Pacquiao is still lightning-quick, lethal, high energy, and pocketing millions of dollars.

Four, attitude. Consider the remarkable story of Olga Kotelko. The Canadian began her athletics career at the age of … 77! She then amassed 30 world records and lived until the age of 95 (she passed away in 2014). We ought to memorize the lesson that Olga leaves all of us. She said:

“I think your age is just a number. It’s not your birthday, it’s how you age which makes the difference. It’s your attitude to all the things that happen in your life that plays the biggest part.”

Novak and Rafa

They’re No.1 and No. 2. One is Serbian and the other is Spaniard. One swats that forehand as a right-hander while the other is a muscular lefty. The two have met 52 times: Novak Djokovic with 27 wins vs. 25 from Rafael Nadal.

It’s the Australian Open final today at 4:30 p.m. (Phil. time).

Choosing one over the other is hard. In major finals, it’s Nadal with a 4-3 edge. But when you examine their outdoor hardcourt battles, Djokovic has a commanding 14-5 lead.

In Melbourne the past two weeks, the top seeds have been invincible. Rafa hasn’t lost a set while Novak steamrolled past Lucas Pouille in the semis. Said the Frenchman: “Novak is playing like really, really fast, really low. He’s close to the baseline. Always he has good placement in any situation. Even in defense, he’s going to put the ball really deep maybe 10, 20 centimeters from the baseline.”

Novak and Rafa are at the peak of their games and both are raring to fight for tennis’ heavyweight championship.

My pick? Unlike Dr. Rhoel Dejaño who idolizes Djokovic, I’m a Nadal fan. And with his improved serve and forehand, I hope the Mallorcan-native will win his 18th major. Not having played in a tournament since his US Open injury last September, he has resurfaced as a hungry Spanish bullfighter.

Stefanos Tsitsipas said of Nadal: “He has this, I don’t know, talent that no other player has. His game style has something that it kind of makes the other half of your brain work more than it usually does. I’m trying to understand, but I cannot find an explanation.”

I hope Rafa wins. But that’s far from certain. If we look at the odds, they favor his nemesis, who’s a -135 favorite (bet $135 to win $100).

But while the choice of winner (prize money: $2.9 million) is no guarantee, what’s guaranteed is a combat; a baseline warfare loaded with two-handed backhand bombs, delicate drop shots, volleys, slice shots, screams, fist pumps. 

The only time the two met in the Oz Open final was seven years ago. It lasted 5 hours and 53 minutes with Novak winning 7-5 in the fifth set. At Wimbledon last July, Novak won 10-8 in the fifth (five hours and 15 minutes).

Tonight, are we expecting another five-hour, five-set marathon? Maybe. It will be a Gladiator-like bloodbath with the Head and Babolat rackets as swords; an Ironman contest between a Lacoste-wearing 31-year-old vs. Nike’s 32-year-old star. It will be about longevity. It will be about dominance. Because while the likes of Tsitsipas, Zverev, Thiem and Khachanov want to triumph in the majors, they’re not welcome yet.

Including Roger Federer’s 20 majors and Nadal’s 17 and Djokovic’s 14, the Big Three have won 51 of the last 62 Grand Slam trophies since 2003. The rest of the world has won only 11 in the past 15 years. This is more than dominance. It’s a near-monopoly and dictatorship by Roger-Rafa-Novak. Today will be 52 of 62 major wins (with an 84% win ratio) for the Big 3.

Rafa in four sets. Vamos!