Love in Singapore

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SINGAPORE — If you follow tennis, you know that the meaning of “love” is different with this game. While love means everything in life, in tennis, it means nothing. It’s zero. What transpired here the past week was love-filled.

First, the shocker. It happened last Wednesday when Serena Williams lost to Simona Halep. The score: 6-0, 6-2. The first eight games were won by the 23-year-old Romanian. Watching from the bleachers, the sound was deafening inside the Indoor Stadium. All of us were in disbelief. Was this happening?

But, thanks to the round robin format, a loss doesn’t mean an exit. Usually, tournaments employ a knockout system. You lose, you’re out. Not in the BNP Paribas WTA Finals.

At the press conference minutes after that embarrassment, I sat 15 feet away from Serena. She was downtrodden but still managed to smile. (Amazing how champions stay positive despite defeat.)

Serena survived — barely — to make it to the semis. In the last elimination round match of her group, Ana Ivanovic had a chance to gain entry had she won in straight sets over Halep. She won the first set. But then Halep won the second set and vanquished the chance for Ana. Serena, by virtue of a higher quotient, advanced.

FINAL. Last Sunday at 7 p.m. during the Women’s Singles final, the stadium brimmed with a boisterous crowd. Top Philta official Randy Villanueva was here. So was Jean Henri Lhuillier, accompanied by his wife Bea Lucero-Lhuillier. Many top honchos and players from Philippine tennis watched.

Three legends were in attendance. Chris Evert entered the arena and was honored as a WTA Ambassador. Martina Navratilova has the doubles trophy named after her. Also here was the founder of the WTA herself, Billie Jean King. The three Americans sat beside each other at courtside.

The Serena-Simona final was just like their match on Wednesday. Only this time, the roles were reversed. Then, Simona was the aggressor. This time, Serena made sure to be in control.

“I had to play more Serena-style tennis,” she said, “and just do what I do best: enforce myself.”

Serena’s serve, nearing 200-kph on many occasions, was the overpowering shot. On short balls or on floaters, she’d run towards the net and topspin-volley the ball for a winner. In one memorable game while Halep served, she finished the point with a thunderous smash. On her subsequent shot, returning serve, she smothered that ball so hard that it boomeranged harder than Halep’s serve.

Halep was helpless. It was another cold-blooded and unforgiving display of tennis from SW — the same type that won her 18 major singles crowns.

Personally, I’m lucky to have witnessed a few historic Serena moments: when she won her first major in New York at the age of 17; when she won the Olympic doubles gold with Venus in Beijing; and two nights ago.

DOUBLES. Speaking of “love,” another love set occurred in doubles when Sania Mirza and Cara Black blanked the defending champions, Peng Shuai and Hsieh Su-Wei, 6-1, 6-0. Everybody expected a closer bout. The Chinese/Taiwanese pair were the higher seeds (No. 2). But Mirza/Black were inspired. They were down a match point in the quarterfinals and down three match points in the semis but survived. They possessed that nothing-to-lose spirit last Sunday and, after losing the opening game, won 12 straight games.

TV. Too bad for us at home, I don’t think the BNP Paribas WTA Finals was shown on TV. The Singapore tournament should have been broadcasted worldwide — especially to Asia considering that it was the first-ever WTA Finals held in Asia-Pacific.

FUTURE ACES. One program that the organizers included was the Future Aces. They invited the top 14- and 16-and-under female player from each Southeast Asian country to join in a round-robin competition held at the Kallang Tennis Centre. Monica Cruz and Rafa Villanueva represented the Philippines. Not only did they get to join and play, they also got to be up close with the Top 8. During the Draw Ceremony the other Saturday, Rafa stood beside Serena Williams and was gifted with her Wilson racket! Nice!

SEA EVENT. There was also another junior tournament: the South East Asian Championships featuring the top two boys and girls players from the 12-, 14-, and 16-and-under divisions of the various ASEAN countries. Representing the Boys 14 was Cebu’s very own, Arthur Craig “Iggy” Pantino.

BALLKIDS. I’m also here as a tennis parent. My daughter Jana, together with top junior netter Kara Salimbangon, are the two representatives from the Philippines in the ballkids program. Indonesia is also represented by two girls, joining 48 children from Singapore. What a rare chance for Jana and Kara to be on court, just a few feet away, from the world’s Top 8.

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