Monthly Archives: January 2016

Down Under, hot is cool

If you follow this sport that entails slicing backhand shots and smashing forehand drives, then you know what’s at stake this weekend: the Australian Open finals.

Played on hard courts in Melbourne, the Oz Open is the year’s first Grand Slam tennis tournament. It’s also, literally, the hottest; on-court temperatures often reach 45 degrees Celcius. But as the event’s saying goes, “Hot is Cool.” Australians are cool people. They’re often relaxed, shorts- and sleeveless-wearing buddies who call themselves “mate.”

The 2016 Australian Open runs two weeks long and the tennis has been blistering and boiling.

First, there was the first round exit of 2009 champion (and 14-slam winner) Rafael Nadal. His five-set loss to Fernando Verdasco — featuring two lefty Spaniards — was shocking not only because Verdasco owned a “lowly” ranking of 45, but also because Nadal has had a resurgence of late. After a career-worst season in 2015, he’s played much better heading to the Australian continent. So that loss was stunning.

Among the other men, almost all the top seeds advanced as expected. The other major surprise was Stan Wawrinka’s loss to Milos Raonic. But, to me, that wasn’t too much of a disturbance. The 6-foot-5 Raonic delivers one of the strongest serves.

How about Novak Djokovic? One word I offer to describe the Serb: unbeatable. In the most-hyped match of the 14-day event — his semifinal encounter against Roger Federer — he toyed with the Swiss in the first two sets, as if the initials RF meant “Recreational First-timer.” As good as Roger and Rafa were during their prime, the 28-year-old appears to elevate his game to even higher levels. He has zero weaknesses. And against Andy Murray in the finals (scheduled at 7:30 p.m. Philippine time tonight), very few give the Under Armour-wearing Scot a chance against the Uniqlo endorser.

TREAT HUEY. One player that we know well who’s played well is Filipino-American Treat (pronouned as “Tret”) Conrad Huey. He’s come to Cebu on numerous occasions when Plantation Bay Resort and Spa hosted the Davis Cup. You’ve seen his 220-kph left-handed service aces.

Treat partnered with Max Mirnyi in the men’s doubles and they reached the quarterfinals. Seeded 14, they upset the fourth-ranked pair of Rohan Bopanna and Florin Mergea in Round 3.

In the mixed doubles, the 30-year-old Treat reached one step further: he and partner Andreja Klepac of Slovakia, unseeded, reached the semifinals — the first time ever in his storied doubles career that Mr. Huey has reached the Final Four of a Grand Slam tournament.

“It was a good run here,” he told CNN Philippines, “getting to the quarterfinals of the men’s doubles and reaching the semifinals with the mixed doubles with Andreja (Klepac).”

Though the mixed doubles result doesn’t count with his ATP world (doubles) ranking, his current spot as world no. 34 will surely improve after this week.

iptl-trit-huey

(Photo by EC Toledo IV/Phil. Star)

Why is Treat’s ranking important? During the Peugeot Open event held at the Cebu Country Club during the Sinulog week, I spoke to Francis Casey (“Niño”) Alcantara and he revealed to me why it’s important that the Fil-Am does well in the coming months.

“If Treat’s world ranking improves to No. 15 or better by June or July,” said Niño, “then he’ll be invited to join the doubles competition of the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.”

And if this happens, chances are that Treat’s doubles partner will be Alcantara. (Niño reached the ATP Challenger men’s doubles final in Rizal Memorial in Manila the other week and, back in 2009, he won the Australian Open junior doubles crown.)

This means that the Philippines will have one more pair of athletes who’ll be heading to Brazil — and Treat’s quarterfinal finish a few days ago was a major step towards achieving that target.

Fire the coach when you’re No. 1

If you look at the NBA standings, out of the 16 teams in the Eastern Conference, one squad stands tallest. It’s the Cleveland Cavaliers. Sporting a 30-11 win-loss record (that’s a 73.2 percent winning clip), they lead the second-placers Toronto Raptors by three games. The Cavs carry an impressive 16-2 record when playing at “The Q,” their Quicken Loans Arena in downtown Cleveland.

Their last 10 games? They won eight. And who can forget them reaching the NBA Finals last season, leading the Warriors two games to one before losing 4-2. Impressive numbers, right? Absolutely.

Well, not exactly. In a bold, decisive and, to many, shocking move, the Cavaliers management have fired their head coach David Blatt. What? Yes, despite leading the conference and getting poised to trample upon the much-weaker East, they tore apart his $5 million annual contract that was stipulated to end next season.

Perplexing? Yes and No. First, “The Loss.” This, to me, was the final episode that tipped the Cavs owners to make the astonishing decision. “The Loss” means that game between Cleveland and Golden State last Monday. After the two finalists played on Christmas Day in California (with GSW winning 89-83), it was revenge time for the Ohio team.

What transpired was more than shocking. It was embarrassing. The Cavs trailed by 30 in the first half and the deficit reached 43 after halftime. At game’s end, the scoreboard read 132-98 for the Warriors. Can you imagine, all game long, the frustration and shame felt by the Cavaliers fans and their owners? Now that the Triple Threat (LeBron, Kevin and Kyrie) was complete, they get disgraced like this? At home?

Never mind if, in the next two games after that horror, the Cavs defeat the Nets and the Clippers — the decision has been made: something drastic has to be done.

David Blatt… you’re fired! So, this is both shocking and not-so-shocking. In a piece by Nate Silver entitled “LeBron’s Cavs Are The Best Team Ever To Fire Its Coach Midseason,” the author writes: “Coaches don’t usually get fired when their teams are playing well. But Blatt’s Cavs haven’t just been good; they’ve been on the verge of great. The team’s current ELO rating is 1669, far higher than that of any other team when it fired a coach mid-season.”

True. But it’s all about expectations. To many, leading the East and garnering a 73 percent winning percentage is excellent. But to LeBron James & Co., that’s not good enough. They want more. And they’ve assembled the James-Love-Irving triumvirate not merely to reach the playoffs. There’s only one goal and that’s to win the NBA season’s very last game.

Why not wait, some are asking, for the season to end before deciding on Blatt’s fate? No, no. The Cavs are impatient — as they should be. And it appears that, behind the scenes, the Cavs were not as cohesive as they need to be.

Amin Elhassan of ESPN Insider says this of the change: “Good move. There had been friction between Blatt and the locker room for most of his tenure. That makes his winning percentage sort of irrelevant because if the team isn’t fully invested, nothing else matters.”

Who’s the replacement? Tyronn Jamar Lue is the new coach. A former NBA player (who won two rings in the ‘90s with the Lakers), he was the Cavs’ assistant coach before moving up the corporate ladder. Based on my readings, Ty Lue is well-liked by the players, especially by the NBA’s four-time MVP, LBJ.

ESPN’s Elhassan’s take on the 38-year-old Lue? TBD, he says. To be determined. “In the short term, it’s a good move in that he has the ear and respect of the locker room, so buy-in will come much more easily for him, especially considering players typically want to play well for a well-liked, respected assistant coach in his first head-coaching gig.”

My take? Given the embarrassment LeBron faced against Steph Curry, this move is necessary. But the burden’s on Coach Ty. He ought to remember this: Blatt was the third coach to be fired in the last four seasons.

Pacman’s finale: calculated, brilliant — but boring

The last time Manny Pacquiao climbed the 20’ x 20’ boxing ring, he lost. That was last May against Mayweather. The last thing Manny Pacquiao wants to happen when he enters the boxing ring for the last time in his career — this April — is another loss.

Against a Junior named Floyd, he lost. That’s why he picked another Junior to win. Thus explains the safeguarded, humdrum, please-not-a-third-time decision to fight Timothy Ray Bradley, Jr.

The choices were plenty. There was Adrien Broner, an American like Bradley who’s fought 34 times, won 31 times, with 23 of those Ws by knockout. He’s the WBA super lightweight champ. There was Amir Khan, the 29-year-old Briton who won the 2004 Olympic silver medal in Athens. And exactly like Broner, he’s climbed the stage on 34 tries and won 31. Finally, Terence Crawford. Nicknamed “Bud” and only 28, he’s the WBO light welterweight champion.

Didn’t Bob Arum himself proclaim last November that the choice had narrowed down to either Amir Khan or Terence Crawford? In the end, familiarity wins. Caution is the parent of safety, a proverb goes. In this case, caution won.

Why risk Manny’s last act to an undefeated 27-0 Crawford? Why risk the last time we’ll remember him shirtless, sweaty and bloodied on the MGM Grand stage to Adrien Broner, who’s Ring Magazine’s No. 6 in the pound for pound rankings?

And so here we are again and again, our Pambansang Kamao facing Desert Storm — their third meeting in Manny’s last seven fights. Why? Maybe Arum has this penchant with even numbers: MP-TB met in 2012… in 2014… in 2016. It’s an every-other-year date.

What do the cynics say about April 9? Ha-ha. Brutal. It ranges from “Morales: Manny Pacquiao Choosing Timothy Bradley Not Thrilling” to “PB3 Would Continue The Wrong Tradition” to “Pacquiao vs. Bradley III: A Fight For The Delusional.”

Arum himself admits that this will be a difficult sell for his Pay-Per-View (PPV) numbers. Coming from Pacquiao’s last outing which generated over 4.4 million buys (majority of whom were very disappointed), the expectations this time are lowly.

“Will we do the same numbers for the first two Bradley fights?” Arum asked. “Probably not. We’re going to try to come as close as we can, and hopefully exceed it, but I understand what we’re up against. I’ve run my numbers and I have done my math. I’m not out here with my head up my ass.”

As charming and smiling as Bob Arum is in person (my dad Bunny and I met him in Macau two years ago), he’s the most astute and cunning of sports promoters.

The 84-year-old Arum knows his figures. The 2012 Manny-Tim bout raked in 890,000 PPV buys. Two years later, it went down to 800,000. This time, 700k? Maybe less? Arum can trumpet the contest this way: Bradley is the new Bradley; he has a new trainer in Teddy Atlas and he KO’d Brandon Rios in the 9th round last November. Plus, this is Manny’s last fight.

As to the rumors circulating that Pac-Man will fight one last time after Bradley — a rematch against Mayweather? I doubt it. It’s possible but very, very, very unlikely.

The month after Pacquiao defeats Bradley to cap an outlandish career that saw him earn billions and win the hearts of millions, he’ll win as senator of the Philippines. By then, Pacquiao’s total focus and time will be centered on another type of slugfest: the political circus.

My take on all this? Like I mentioned before in previous articles, I wished Manny would have ended his career fronting his fellow Pinoys inside the 55,000-seater Philippine Arena. But money talks. And the voice of money is, to Arum, louder than Manny’s. And it points to Las Vegas, not Bulacan.

This Bradley move, years from now, will end up to be an excellent choice for Sen. Pacquiao. He pockets $20 million. He ends his career with a bang — from his Cleto Reyes gloves. And he gains free advertising as all ears and eyes will be fixated on his victory a month before May 9.