CITCI’s aces Ken Salimbangon and Nestor Toledo

There are thousands of tennis fanatics in our island of Cebu. Many watch Djokovic, Roger, Murray and Rafa on TV. Plenty, each morning or evening, step on the clay court to slice backhands, swing volleys and caress drop-shots. A rare few, like Ernie Delco, Marichu San Juan and Atan Guardo, have visited a Grand Slam tournament and seen, in the flesh, Serena and Venus. Many enjoy tennis.

But none compare to Ken Salimbangon and Nestor Toledo. These two are buddies. They’re parents of junior tennis players. They play tennis, too. But their biggest achievement: building a facility that is the first of its kind in our Central Visayas island:

Cebu International Tennis Centre, Inc. That’s the name. It’s located in Consolacion, just meters before the soon-to-rise SM Mall. Nicknamed “CITCI,” what’s in this venue? Eight tennis courts. That’s plenty. While most of our clubs here have one, two or, the most, three rectangles, CITCI boasts of four clay-courts and four hard-courts. This is major, major—times eight—good news for tennis lovers. Because in the past, especially for junior tournaments, while we’ve had to spread the venues to, for example, three locations (Cebu Country Club, Casino Español, and Baseline) just to accommodate the huge turnout of participants, this time, it’s just one site: CITCI.

“This is our dream realized,” said Ken Salimbangon, who plays singles almost each 5:30 A.M. “This is the venue that Cebu has longed for. And this is open for all Cebuanos.” Adds Nestor Toledo, a tennis buff who also runs the 42K: “We have clinics, tournaments and soon, a tennis academy. We’ll train young children and older adults—all types—from beginners to advanced.”

Ken and Nestor used to play at Sancase Tennis Club in Mabolo. Their children used to train at the every-weekend training camp. But when Sancase was closed down, they asked, “Where to?” They searched. After meeting with a group of tennis pros from Hong Kong and requesting for some used balls and racquets, they next met with the officials of the Municipality of Consolacion, led by Mayor Nene Alegado.

One first step led to another until Ken and Nestor were able to convince the Consolacion Tennis Club to allow them to help the facility. They refurbished the courts. They convinced Cebu’s top trainers to teach. And, best of all, they partnered with Hong Kong.

OTR stands for On The Rise. It’s a tennis academy famous in HK. OTR – Tennis Asia, led by its three founders—Graeme Foster, Adrian Montesinos and Jason Sankey—forged an agreement with Ken and Nestor. Together, they formed CITCI. Ken and Nestor took care of the court rehabilitation, the local coaches and the recruitment of players. The Hong Kong trio helped with the coaches training, donated balls and rackets, and raised funds for CITCI’s hard courts.

“We’ve sent over 250 rackets,” said Graeme. But much more than that, they raised over P2 million to help fund the blue-green-colored courts in CITCI.

I attended yesterday’s formal launching and the courts were impeccable. They’re neither too fast nor too slow.
PHL No.1 Johnny Arcilla attended. As the guest of honor together with Consolacion Vice Mayor Aurelio Damole, Johnny beat Hong Kong’s Jason Sankey in an exhibition match on Court No. 6.

CITCI is our version of Rizal Memorial in Manila. It’s our one-stop-shop facility where large tournaments can be organized. Training camps? No problem. CITCI’s seven full-time coaches—six of whom have been sent to OTR in Hong Kong for hands-on training—are in “ready, set, serve” mode.

Ken and Nestor have to be applauded. Faced with a problem (Sancase’s demise), they transformed it into an opportunity to realize a dream. Passion. Action. Love for children. Love for tennis. The spirit to pursue one’s dreams. All these Salimbangon and Toledo possess.

To the new Center Court of Cebu found in Consolacion, here’s to many aces, forehand winners, and backhand down-the-line shots. Who knows? A newborn Roger or Rafa might emerge in CITCI.

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