Cebuana Lhuillier in Cebu: A perfect doubles team

It doesn’t matter if you play the sport or not. It’s unimportant if you’ve never swung a backhand in your life and only watch tennis and Rafael Nadal on Star Sports. What’s essential is this: This whole week until Sunday, you have a chance to witness a rare occurrence in Cebu. Who, where, what am I talking about?

RP’s best tennis stars. Live! Here in Cebu City. Joining the Cebuana Lhuillier Men’s Open.

Thanks to Jean Henri Lhuillier, an ace businessman with an unrivaled love for sports, we are witnesses to this major sports event. Jean Henri, the president of the Amateur Softball Association of the Philippines, is a former U.S. college Division-I varsity tennis player who continues to swing forehands until today. In fact, yesterday at 5:30 p.m. with partner Jun Toledo, he joined his own event and played doubles.

Baseline. That’s the tournament location and I invite everyone to watch. Think about it……. Baseliners playing in Baseline. Perfect.

Why watch? Because sports is entertainment. And, I guarantee you, when you walk to the back of the Baseline Recreation Center and encounter their two clay-courts, you’ll be entertained. You’ll see Johnny Arcilla whip his flat topspin forehand to the corner for a winner. You’ll witness PJ Tierro, with his 6-foot-1 frame, smother that yellow ball for an ace. You’ll stare at Yannick Guba (named by his father, Atet, after the French star, Yannick Noah) bang a double-handed backhand down-the-line.

Doubles? Want to see four men stand 15 feet from each other trading volleys? I’m sure you’ll be spellbound watching doubles.

How about viewing the future to see what RP tennis will be like three years from now? Go watch Niño Alcantara. Only 16 years old, he’s world no. 70 in juniors…… in the world! And though he lost to Yannick Guba (6-1, 6-1) in singles, he’s still playing doubles with Kevin Barte. Watch Niño. Watch the future RP no.1 in 2011.

How did our Cebuanos perform? Several of our top locals joined the qualifying event and qualified, but only one was able to win his first round match. While Michael Quiñones, Babaw Tiongco, James and Oswaldo Dumoran, Bo Alburo, Kennex Abadia and Ryan Repunte fought hard, they all lost their first matches. Only junior player Francis Largo prevailed in the first round. This is a testament to how tough the field is—and how many from Manila arrived.

One of the best matches so far was Cebu’s no.1, Bo Alburo, against RP no. 3 Rolando Ruel, Jr. In the first set, Alburo played gutsy, aggressive tennis and won. The crowd cheered and clapped. The word “Upset!” trickled in the minds of the Cebuanos. But Ruel, based in Manila, quickly recovered, and won the second and third sets.

Another crowd-pleaser was the other night’s fight between PJ Tierro, RP no. 2, versus local favorite Christian “Babaw” Tiongco. Everybody expected Tierro to annihilate Tiongco. But our local netter held firm in the first set before Tierro won, 6-4, then won the next, 6-2.

What time to visit Baseline and watch? Anytime of the day. Matches start at 8 a.m. and, usually, the singles matches are played in the morning while the doubles games dominate the afternoon. Schedule? Today, it’s the quarterfinals; tomorrow, the semis; the finals on Saturday.

Finally, thanks to Jun and April Toledo, the husband-and-wife tandem who organized this sortie, the event is professionally-managed and running as smooth as Roger Federer’s forehand swing. And, back to Jean-Henri Lhuillier, what a wise move: organizing an event by Cebuana Lhuillier among, who else….. Cebuanos and Cebuanas.

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