Monthly Archives: August 2013

Six reasons to watch the Davis Cup

The US Open begins on Monday. Who’s the favorite? No question: the lefty from Spain. As tenacious as a bull from Madrid and as prolific a scorer as the Spanish football World Cup champs — Rafael Nadal is the Usain Bolt-frontrunner sprinting towards the year’s Grand Slam finish in New York City.

He beat R. Federer. He won his 11th straight over T. Berdych. He towered over the 6-foot-10 J. Isner in last Sunday’s final in Ohio. He’s unbeaten this year on hard-courts — his least-favorite surface.

This 2013, with N. Djokovic prevailing in Australia, Rafa at the French Open, and A. Murray at Wimbledon, will we witness a fourth different major winner in America?

Possibly, the Swiss maestro, Roger? Unlikely. But the fan-favorite has won the US Open five straight times. The problem is, that was from 2004 to 2008. It’s now 2013 and Roger is a lowly-ranked world no. 5. Andy Murray? He seems to be overextending his honeymoon after Wimbledon. Like most experts, I’ll go with the butt-scratching, time-overextending, bandana-wearing matador from Mallorca winning his 13th major this ‘13.

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DAVIS CUP. This Sept. 13 to 15, the Kiwis from New Zealand will land in Mactan and battle our fellow Pinoys. Plenty of reasons why you should watch.

One: The matches start at 3 p.m. and extend until the night. This means that, while immersed in the midst of Plantation Bay Resort and Spa’s beauty, you’ll be relaxed. It won’t be hot. The setting will be perfect.

Two: This Philippines-New Zealand battle is the final round of Group 2 competition. It’s crucial. Whoever wins will be elevated to the higher bracket that includes Japan, India and Australia. (Next to that category is the World Group — which includes the world’s Top 16.)

Three: It’s for free. While tickets will be distributed for early arrival/guaranteed seating, everybody else who wants to watch can watch. The goal is to jampack the open-air stadium. Thanks to the Lapu-Lapu City government and Cebuana Lhuillier (Jean Henri Lhuillier), who sponsor this event, we get to watch without paying P500/head.

Four: Like the Gilas Pilipinas, we get to cheer for our countrymen. Randy Villanueva, our Davis Cup administrator and the main person responsible for Cebu’s hosting the Davis Cup, confirms the attendance of Treat Huey and Ruben Gonzales.

“Treat is coming from the US Open,” said Randy. “He wasn’t able to defend his doubles ATP 500 title last week in Washington but he is doing well and hopefully he does good in the US Open … Ruben is also doing great as he came from Europe and joined a lot of doubles tap challenger; he is now top 200 in doubles, a career high. He is back in the States now and training with his personal coach for singles play for the coming Davis Cup.”

Five: New Zealand will field their star netter. Earlier this year, we defeated Syria, 3-2, and Thailand, 4-1.

Against New Zealand, I heard the news that their No. 1 player won’t be coming to Cebu. It turned out to be false. “If you’re talking about Daniel King Turner, who actually quit playing pro tennis recently,” said Randy Villanueva, “then it’s not true as he is coming as early as Sept 4 in Plantation Bay to train; the rest of his teammates arrive on Sept 8 or 9.” Now 29 years old, the 6’3” Turner was ranked just outside the world’s top 200 players in 2010. He recently announced his “retirement” from the pro circuit but has committed to Davis Cup play for NZ.

Six: Witness the honoring. “We are giving a Davis Cup committment award chosen by the ITF in coordination with Philta,” Randy said. “Davis Cup trophies will be given to three players and they are Johnny Jose, Reymundo Deyro and Johnny Arcilla. We will award them before the start of the Saturday doubles at 6 p.m. Also, Rod Rafael is coming to the Davis Cup tie and will try to help and inspire the team; really looking forward to this also.”

It’s a tennis date: Sept. 13, 14 and 15. Venue: Plantation Bay Resort and Spa.

In Davis Cup, an old foe in New Zealand

Mark your calendar and block off these dates: Sept. 13 to 15. During these three days, like we did during the Half-Ironman race two Sundays ago, we’ll once again witness a sports contest that’s international.

In fact, if the Ironman is only 35 years young (it began in 1978 in Hawaii), next month’s competition is 113 years old. Yes, the Davis Cup — the largest team sport competition in the world — started in 1900. Since that moment, World Wars I and II have erupted and wars between nations have been fought on the tennis court.

This Sept. 13 to 15, our Team Philippines will hope to do a Gilas Pilipinas: We hope to qualify. Right now, we’re in Group 2 of the Asia-Oceania bracket. If we defeat our opponents — New Zealand — next month, we’ll qualify to join countries like Australia and India and enter Group 1.

New Zealand. This isn’t a new nemesis; we’ve faced them five times before. The first meeting was a long 50 years ago. Yes, half a century ago — in 1963 — we met. We’ll face again in 2013. Historic, right? We won that inaugural tie and have since played four more times (1989, 2007, 2009, and 2011).

Thus far, our head-to-head is 3-2, advantage Philippines. The bad news is that the last time we met, we lost 5-0. The good news is that prior to that encounter (at the PCA shell courts in Manila), we won.

Who’ll win next month? Us, I hope. You see, we’ll be riding off a great wave of momentum that’s buoyed our players this year. Last February, we faced Syria and won. Last April, we faced Thailand and won. Will it be third-time-lucky in Sept?

Yes. Playing at the picturesque Plantation Bay Resort and Spa for a fifth time, our win-loss record on the solitary clay-court is 2-all (we lost the first two to Japan and Chinese-Taipei). We hope to break the tie for a positive score, in our favor.

If you haven’t watched a Davis Cup weekend here in Mactan in the past four outings, then I’ll use a phrase that Michel Lhuillier jokingly said in our recent conversation when I had not visited his newest French restaurant: Shame on you.

You must watch! This is a continuation of the Pinoy Pride glory that was started last weekend by June Mar Fajardo and his Gilas teammates.

PLAYERS. “We are about to name the pool of candidates and will announce the actual team on Sept. 3,” said Randy Villanueva, the Phil. Tennis Association Vice President and Davis Cup administrator.

The two names that Randy guarantees will be playing are Treat Huey and Ruben Gonzales. “They’re actively competing abroad and have world rankings,” Randy said, of the two Filipino-Americans.

The other netters who are strongly considered include Johnny Arcilla, Francis Casey Alcantara, PJ Tierro, Jeson Patrombon, Elbert Anasta and Marc Reyes.

“The favorites, of course, are Arcilla and Alcantara as they were in the last team that beat Thailand,” said Randy. “But the coaching staff would like to also see the results and their condition in the Olivarez Open that will end in August. PJ Tierro is playing well; he won two of the last three tournaments, although they were on hard courts. Anything is possible with the team specially that we are playing home and the players are just here.”

Like in basketball, our former tennis stars used to be Asian champions. According to the official website (www.daviscup.com), these words appeared to describe our nation: “Philippines was Eastern Zone champion in 1957, 1958, 1960 and 1964, but lost in the Inter Zonal semifinals on all four occasions. Philippines reached the World Group play-offs in 1991, although has never appeared in the competition’s top tier.”

Again, like in PHL basketball, today we’re on the rise with tennis, as evidenced by our twin DC wins this year. Beating New Zealand will be a major step that will bring us closer to meeting the Nadals and Dimitrovs.

A conversation with June Mar Fajardo

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Fajardo, No. 13, with Gabe Norwood and Jimmy Alapag

I woke him up at 2:43 p.m. yesterday. Kumusta? I asked.

Like a giant awakened from his restful slumber, the voice of the only Cebuano among the one dozen Gilas Pilipinas players was sleepy.

I apologized. “Okay ra,” June Mar said.

How’s the celebration? June Mar explained that, in a few hours’ time, he and his fellow heroes will be feted with an awarding ceremony prior to Game 1 of the PBA Governors’ Cup.

They’ll stand on center stage in the same stage where they triumphed: the parquet floor of the Mall of Asia Arena. “Afterwards,” said June Mar, “we’ll have a party at the Resorts World.”

The boys deserve it. After non-stop, game-after-game, pressure-packed and almost-nightly encounters from August 1 to 11 during the FIBA Asia Championship, they deserve to be accorded the standing ovation. They deserve to relax, drink, grin and dance inside Resorts World.

Mr. Fajardo, at 23, is the youngest player in the roster that includes several three-decades-old players: Jimmy Alapag, 35; Gary David, 34; Marcus Douthit, 32; Ranidel De Ocampo and Marc Pingris are 31; and Jeff Chan and Larry Fonacier are 30.

June Mar Fajardo was happiest about one thing last wekeend: “That I was part of history.”

What did he learn from the international-level experience? “Gamiton ang (Use the) height,” he said. We talked about the last game versus Iran and him guarding the 7-foot-2 behemoth, Hamed Haddadi, who towered by four inches over the 6’10” Fajardo.

Dako and bug-at (Big and heavy),” June Mar said of Haddadi. He didn’t find him solid — as in, muscular-solid — but heavy.

“I’ll focus more on defense. This is the one area that I’ll improve on,” he added, looking forward to the PBA season and of his team, the Petron Blaze Boosters, whose first game is scheduled this Friday. Of Petron, June Mar added: “Our team is strong. We have a good import and new players. We have good shooters.”

It looks like, these band of Gilas teammates very quickly will disband and rejoin their different PBA squads and face each other — not as close buddies — but as opponents during the PBA Governors’ Cup.

About the story that leaked in the press of Manny V. Pangilinan giving each Gilas member a cool P1,000,000, June Mar said that there was no official word on that yet. “Wala pa mi gi sulti-an,” he said, although he did hear about the rumors.

As to what he’ll do with the extra P1 million if ever it gets deposited in his bank account, June Mar’s answer had me smiling.

“I’ll buy a cow for my dad,” he replied.

Baka? Cow? Yes, several cows, he said, that he’ll gift his father so that, in his own words, “daghan iyang bantayan (he can watch over several cows).”

That’s a nice and appreciative gesture — coming from a son who has proud pride to the Fajardo family.

I asked about his teammates. “They’re all very, very good to me,” he said. “Ako pinaka-baby (I’m the baby in the group). During practice, if I make mistakes, they help me out. They don’t put me down. They give advice.”

His closest friends? Marc Pingris and Japeth Aguilar. You know why? “We’re all fond of online games!” June Mar confessed.

Proud of his roots in Cebu, where he studied HRM for the University of Cebu and where he donned the blue-and-gold Webmasters uniform, he acknowledged the help of two individuals who helped mold him: Augusto “Gus” Go, the owner of UC, and the team’s mentor and manager, Baldomero “Merong” Estenzo.

Earlier yesterday, I got to speak with Atty. Estenzo and he shares our Cebuano pride in Fajardo. “I watched their games on TV,” he said. “After they’d finish, I’d give June Mar a call to encourage him. There were many games when he didn’t play long enough; I told him that he’s the youngest and to continue working hard. Never mind if you don’t score many points but focus on your rebounds, defense and blocked shots. We’re very proud of June Mar.”

On a personal note, the few times that I met June Mar in person — plus our phone conversation yesterday — he comes across as a very shy, humble and respectful person. He’s Gilas but not hilas.

Gilas loses in MOA but heads for Spain

Somebody once commented: “Second place is ‘the first place for losers.’”

That’s painfully true. But also untrue. Because while our Gilas Pilipinas squad “only” placed Runner-up, we made it. The goal was to qualify. We qualified. The goal was to beat the Chinese. We defeated them — surprisingly, not in actual combat inside MOA Arena, but we placed three spots higher than the country with 1.34 billion people.

Iran, literally, was too tall an order. Japeth Aguilar may have been eyed for the NBA’s D-League but Iran’s Hamed Haddadi is an actual NBA player. There’s a giant difference there. As expected, it was Haddadi who towered tallest — and got his third FIBA MVP trophy. Unstoppable. Haddadi was too hefty, too heavy-duty, too NBA-experienced.

It doesn’t matter. What matters is that we’re headed for Spain 12 months from now — the once-every-four-years FIBA Basketball World Cup runs from Aug. 30 to Sept. 14, 2014 — to stand on the same Spanish tiles as Kevin Durant. Although it’s unlikely that a Phils-USA encounter will happen (Spain will have six city-venues), just the thought of us playing in the same playground as the big boys will give us pride. Pinoy pride.

Final thought: You think Kobe arrived in Manila yesterday to scout us out this early? Ha-ha.

R399. Like a thousand others last Sunday morning, I joined the “R399: Live Your Dream” run that was called “Remembering Ramie.”

Ramie, of course, is Ramie Igaña, who passed away last year while doing an act he enjoyed best — biking — during the Cobra Ironman 70.3 race. His race bib last year was “R399.”

Two mornings ago, clear skies and a cool dawn breeze greeted the runners which included plenty of Ironman finishers (Richard Ho, Noy Jopson, Bernard Sia) and prominent Cebuanos: Pablo John Garcia, Ramsey and Jingo Quijano, Joel Garganera, Joy Polloso, Jesse Taborada, Roy and Dr. Rosan Trani, and our ultramarathoner editor, Michelle So.

After an absence from joining runs for over a year, what I enjoyed most about the event were two things:

First, the route. It was simply a loop around the Cebu Business Park. The run had three distances (3K, 6K and 12K) and we never ventured outside the confines of Ayala. It was safe. The air was cleaner. Fewer cars crossed our paths. The intersection areas were free from too many vehicles — unlike Cebu’s other crowded streets.

Second, I like the no-singlet-all-medals policy. I registered for the 6K and paid P350. I was surprised not to get a singlet. But, guess what: upon finishing, I got a sparkling reward and medal crafted by… Juarez. (No mispelling there; just transform the “S” to “J.”) All finishers, including my daughter Jana and her classmates Louise, Christine and Meg, got Juarez medals. Well done, Doc Humility (“Mitty”).

DUFNER. Tiger Woods lost again. It’s no surprise. He’s now 18-0. Which means that in the last 18 majors that he’s joined, he hasn’t won. Will he ever break free from his I’m-stuck-at-14-majors slump? He’s getting older (he’ll be 38 this Dec.). Meanwhile, what a victory for Jason Dufner. A first-time major winner (he’s the 15th first-time major winner in the last 21 majors), what makes Dufner famous is the word “dufnering.” Golfers know this stance. If you don’t know what it is, Googgle it. It’ll make you smile.

RAFA. Me, injured? Me, out for seven months? Me, skipping the Olympics? Yes. The “me” refers to Nadal. Did you watch a few of the Rogers Cup matches over the weekend? (Sad how Roger couldn’t play in his “Rogers” Cup.) The Nadal-Djokovic semifinal was another war. Did you watch how Nadal drilled that backhand straight to the neck of the Serb? Ouch. But that was unintended. That happens all the time, especially in doubles. What’s funny was Novak’s reaction, not acknowledging the sorry of Rafa. But in the end, after the handshake and the apology, all’s well between the two. Plus, in the end, including the final against Milos Raonic, we know Nadal is not only back — but back even better, winning 48 of 51 matches. Vamos, Rafa.

Gilas Pilipinas rocked the MOA Arena

MANILA — Here up north to attend a family wedding (in Tagaytay) and unable to join this morning’s Ironman 70.3 race (due to an Achilles tendon injury), I trooped to the SM Mall of Asia Arena last Friday.

Would you believe, it’s been 40 years since our nation hosted the FIBA Asia Championship — a smorgasbord of 15 basketball-loving Asian nations, with the top three qualifiers proceeding to Spain for the 2014 FIBA World Cup.

With Smart as the main sponsor — Manny V. Pangilinan, we know, is the MVP of Philippine sports — I was able to secure a ticket. Thanks to long-time friend Desi Arana, who helped coordinate with Smart’s manager for Sports Marketing, Epok Quimpo, I stepped inside the MOA Arena at 5:50 P.M. My wife Jasmin joined me.

Iran versus Korea were on-court — the 2nd game of a four-game schedule on Friday (the event runs from August 1 to 11). In the first half, Korea dominated. Having shocked China the night before, their confidence blossomed. But, in the third quarter, Iran recovered and took the lead that they wouldn’t relinquish. Led by 7-foot-2 NBA player Hamed Haddadi, who topscored with 30 points, Iran defeated Korea, 76-65.

That’s when Jasmin and I met Dr. Manny Juanillo. Seated on the third row in the VIP Section just behind the ring, the top Cebuano surgeon was in Manila for a conference and, the basketball fanatic that he is, made sure to watch. We grabbed a hotdog and burger dinner when the Iran-Korea game finished at 7:30 P.M.

Aga Mulach stood behind me, waiting in line in the restroom. Also seen were many top government officials and celebrities: DPWH Sec. Rogelio Singson, DFA Sec. Albert Del Rosario, SM owner Hans Sy, Robert Jaworski (who was swarmed with fans wanting a photo at the lobby), and PSC Chairman Richie Garcia.

Joe Soberano watched with his son Franco. The long-time basketball fan (and team owner of the Cebu Landmasters squad), Joe also booked tickets for the upcoming 10-10-13 game between the Houston Rockets and Indiana Pacers, also in MOA Arena.

GILAS. Game on! At exactly 8:30 P.M., our Philippine players faced the strong Jordan visitors. It was a fabulous sight to see June Mar Fajardo wear our blue-and-red uniform. Having honed his skills under Gus Go and Merong Estenzo of UC, the tall Fajardo is now climbing the peak of Basketballdom.

The 16,000-seater MOA Arena (which cost over P3 billion to construct) was in near-full capacity. Tickets were sold-out weeks before. Blue and white balloons were waved by our fellow Pinoys. Drum-beaters, perched at the top balcony, banged the sound that echoed throughout the stadium and dribbled inside our excited hearts.

This was my second MOA Arena visit — the first was last October when Boom-Boom Bautista fought. The MOA Arena is the best thing to happen to Philippine sports and entertainment. It not only forced the rehabilitation of the Smart Araneta Coliseum; it also, literally, set the stage for shows like Rihanna (this Sept. 19) and sports events like FIBA and LeBron’s visit. MOA Arena is top-class and, like all of us from Cebu, I can’t wait to see the construction of our own at the SRP starting this 2015.

The game was unexciting/super-exciting. In the first half, we were clobbered. Trailing from the start until the end of the 2nd quarter, I thought we would lose. The Jordanians shot three-pointers with ease while we rotated the ball too many times, nobody mustering the confidence to take shots. The crowd was silenced.

Then, in the 3rd quarter, the exciting part arose. Our Gilas team went on a 17-0 run. Led by Jeff Chan, who sizzled with five three-pointers and a game-total 17 points, we took the lead and never relinquished it.

The crowd did the “wave.” The drums reverberated louder. Said coach Chot Reyes: “The crowd gave us a big lift.” It’s called Pinoy home-court advantage. We won, 77-71, and started a 2-0 win-loss record. Guaranteed a spot in the 2nd round, we dream of duplicating our last hosting in 1973. Then, we were champions. Abangan.