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.

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