Category Archives: Davis Cup: Philippines

Can Huey treat us to an Aussie win?

Treat Huey is Pinoy. His mother, a consultant of the United Nations, is Manina San Pedro-Huey. If you’re a tennis fan and watched one of the five Davis Cup ties held at the Plantation Bay Resort and Spa (thrice in 2013 and twice in 2011), then you must have seen Mr. Huey.

Here’s some good news: Treat (pronounced “Tret”) is in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open. With partner Dominic Inglot, they defeated the seventh seeds (Bopanna/Qureshi) in the Men’s Doubles 4th round. Even better good news? Their next opponents are not the Bryan twins, Bob and Mike.

Huey and Inglot were en route to face the Bryans but, just yesterday, the American twins lost. It was their earliest exit in 11 years. Hurray! While I’m a fan of the Bryans, I’m a bigger fan of Treat. Here’s hoping that they broadcast their next match(es) on TV and that the Pinoy-British duo win three more matches to hoist that Aus-Open trophy.

On the Singles category, the twin shockers were Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova both losing. She had been dubbed Serena The Unbeatable. But against Ana Ivanovic, she became Serena The Beaten. It was refreshing to see the former world No. 1 from Serbia (Ivanovic) win a major fight. Since she won the French Open in 2008, Ana had been absent. She’s been on a decline. But after beating the local favorite Sam Stosur and Serena, she hopes to go all the way to the final this Sunday. Standing in her way in the Quarters today, the new favorite of my daughter Jana: Eugenie Bouchard, only 19 but with the looks and backhand to match Ivanovic.

Among the men, I wouldn’t bet against another Rafa Nadal and Nole Djokovic ending.

CEBU SPORTS AWARDS. Very soon, our group — the Sportswriters Association of Cebu (SAC) — will release the names of the awardees of the SAC-SMB Cebu Sports Awards. Led by our SAC president Rico Navarro, we had a meeting last week at the NL Cafe near SM City to deliberate on the nominees. The list includes world boxing champs, triathletes, ballplayers, martial artists, runners and more. Thanks to San Miguel Brewery, Inc. (led by Girlie Garces), we’ve jointly hosted this honoring of superstars every year. This March 2014 will be the 32nd edition.

AMERICAN FOOTBALL. If there’s one sport I’d love to watch live, it’s the NFL. Last Sunday in the U.S., they had the “semifinals.” The winners: the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks. They’ll meet in the biggest sports night in America: the 48th edition of the Super Bowl. In the American Conference final, Denver defeated the New England Patriots. It was a contest between the two most popular quarterbacks: Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. In this rivalry, Manning led the Broncos with the winning score, 26-16. In the National Conference final, Seattle defeated the San Francisco 49ers, 23-17.

The Super Bowl is set on Feb. 2 in New York. Apart from an exciting game, the world can expect the most expensive TV advertisements to be aired and the best halftime show. The performers? Bruno Mars and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

FLOYD. For now, Manny Pacquiao should just forget about Mayweather. He should just concentrate on his April 12 rematch bout against Timothy Bradley. Beat the undefeated (31-0) American convincingly, preferably before the 12th round, then see what happens next. The Manny-Money mega-fight will come at the right time. Now is not that moment.

Speaking of Pacman, I read Atty. Frank Malilong’s column last week about the Marco Polo Hotel dinner for a cause on Thursday night. The Sarangani congressman will share his life story. Tickets are reportedly selling for P1,800 to P2,200 with all the proceeds going to the Typhoon Yolanda rehabilitation efforts. The following day, according to Atty. Frank, the life sharing of Pacquiao will move to the Hoops Dome in Lapu-Lapu City.

From a wild and reckless previous life, Manny is now a changed man devoted to his constituents, boxing, family and God.

Roller-coaster ride inside Plantation Bay

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Painful. Depressing. Bitter. Heartbreaking. These are some of the emotions and words that best describe last weekend.

The Phils-New Zealand fight at Plantation Bay Resort and Spa was a see-saw, you-never-know-who’s-going-to-win encounter.

Ruben Gonzales held match point in Game 1. We still lost. Rubin Statham of NZ led two-sets-to-love but succumbed to cramps; he could have lost but won. NZ up 2-0. Team Phils. won the 3rd match — the doubles, behind the superb quickness of Nino Alcantara and Treat Huey.

In last Sunday’s Game 4, Rubin (Statham) led Ruben (Gonzales) by two sets to one. After a rain delay, Gonzales recovered to force a fifth set — but trailed 3-5. He wins five of the next six games to triumph, 8-6, after four hours. From down to up, it was all-square, a 2-all tie.

Treat Huey, world no. 28 in doubles, emerged from the dugout to play Michael Venus. Fresh from his US Open stint the week before, Treat provides the Cebuano crowd a treat — he wins the first two sets, 7-5, 6-4. He toys with the male Venus (not Williams). Drop shots. Lobs. Slice forehands. This is it! we thought.

Time check: 12:30 a.m. (Yes, in the morning!) We were up… then down. Unexplicably, Treat’s first serve percentage went down. He lost the third set. And the fourth. The Kiwi scored aces. He tracked down the previously-unreachable drop shots. He fired gun shots from corners. Oh no!

Down 0-2 on Friday, we escaped with a 2-all tie and led two sets to love behind Treat by Sunday. But now, Monday dawn, the tide in Plantation Bay turned again — this time, with NZ winning the final point.

Painful. Devastating. More so because, for the dozens of us who stayed to cheer, we had come a few games away — so close — only to falter. And the clock read “1:50.” Yesterday morning! (Two city mayors — Paz Radaza of Lapu-Lapu City and my seatmate, Monico Puentevella of Bacolod — watched the entire show.)

In the end, like in all sporting endeavors, someone has to smile and someone has to frown.

TENSION. What added fire to the fight was a near-fight that ensued in the middle of last Sunday’s night’s two matches.

Out of nowhere, New Zealand’s captain, Alistair Hunt, a 6-foot-3 hulk of a Kiwi, confronted our own Randy Villanueva with these words, “Why don’t we settle this in the room!”

I was 20 feet away. At first, we were perplexed with their face to face encounter. Only after Randy pushed Alistair did we realize the threat that NZ’s captain made. He wanted a fight! Not to be contested on the clay court and by Babolat rackets — but, literally — a fight using fists.

Crazy. Good thing, amidst dagger looks and screaming, the two were restrained. Good thing also that Alistair didn’t throw a single jab; if he did, given that he barged into the territory where the Pinoys stood (beside the court), he could have been pummeled with fists of Pacquiao’s countrymen.

His aggressiveness was triggered by an earlier argument Randy had with one NZ team player and their team therapist. They exchanged harsh words during the Ruben-Rubin match.

Foolish. Uncalled-for. This act of Alistair. (And this is the guy with the Alistair Hunt Tennis Academy, who teaches children? What values you’re teaching, mate!)

“This is unprecedented!” Randy Villanueva shouted. True. Davis Cup is country versus country. It’s always heated. And the cheering and the drum-beating that we Filipinos exhibited — that’s mild and tame compared to the other boisterous Davis Cup settings.

We’ve been hospitable. The linesmen, honest. We welcomed these guests with our world-renowned Filipino hospitality. The aggressive, in-your-face threat by the team’s leader is disgusting.

END. Still, a loss is a loss. By 2 a.m. yesterday, as the resort winds cooled and the emotional heads cooled, the result was one we didn’t like but accepted. We lost. The Kiwis move up to Group 1 while we remain in Group 2. There’s next year. For now, as symbolic revenge, I’ll buy myself these brown-and-green fruits, slice them into chunks and gobble up these kiwis.

After New York, it’s D.C.

By “DC,” I don’t mean the U.S. capital. I mean “Davis Cup.” After two weeks of tennis at the United States Open in NYC, our attention shifts to the giant lagoon paradise called Plantation Bay Resort and Spa.

But first, Nadal… Now that he owns 13 Grand Slam singles titles, can Rafa overtake Roger Federer’s 17? Yes. I think Nadal will exceed Federer’s number. Only 27 years old, at the French Open alone — where he’s won 8 of 9 — that’s a guaranteed handful of trophies.

Wasn’t Rafa relentless in New York? He’s always been — but more so this 2013 because, deep inside, he knows that he could have been forever-retired at a white sand beach resort in Mallorca, Spain.

Injuries plagued him. He missed defending his Olympic title. He lost so many ATP points that, in his return after injury, he joined an unheard-of Chile event.

But he persisted. Nadal is the most persevering athlete to ever wield a stick. You know what? His knee injury turned out to be a blessing. A “blessing in disguise” we often term that. He rested. He was forcibly asked to go fishing. He performed rehab. Most of all, he changed his game. The spin remains. The pump fists endure. But this time, he developed a more potent 123-mph serve. He volleyed. He also stood inside the baseline — a rarity for the counter-punching Spaniard — to become the aggressor. Needing to finish points quicker than usual (to save his knees), he now attacks that yellow fluffy ball with the ferociousness of a left-handed butcher.

In the weeks to come, a return to the No.1 ranking is inevitable. A year-end top spot is guaranteed. From injury to triumph, that’s Rafa 2013.

PLANTATION BAY. Last night, coach Tommy Frederiksen and I joined the Welcome Dinner honoring the two squads who will do a Battle of Mactan: New Zealand and the Philippines.

These Welcome Dinners are always fun. When Thailand visited last April, their top netter Danai Udomchoke was forced to sing. Yes, in front of a hundred guests, he mustered the courage to do karaoke. One time against Japan, Lapu-Lapu City’s top councilor Harry Radaza spoke in Japanese. This stunned the visitors and had them giggling.

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The Davis Cup teams of the Philippines and New Zealand with the New Zealand Ambassador

This morning, it’s serious stuff: the Draw Ceremony. It’s also an occasion to formally introduce the players. An International Tennis Federation (ITF) representative presides — and coordinates the “bunot-bunot” on who-will-play-who.

Tomorrow, the fencing starts. I got the chance, last Monday, to watch Johnny Arcilla, Ruben Gonzales and Nino Alcantara practice at the Plantation Bay — guided by our captain, Roland Kraut, and coach, Chris Cuarto.

They did first-to-10 points, without serves. They’d just flick the ball via a forehand to start the point. Drop shots were practiced. Slice backhands barely skimmed the net. Next, they played tiebreaks. After that, they exchanged serves and returns. It ran from 4 to 6 p.m. From 6 p.m. onwards, the Kiwis practiced. They’re tall. Plus, given their rankings (higher than ours, except for Treat Huey’s in doubles), they’re good.

Tomorrow, we’ll find out. We own the crowd. We like and have grown accustomed to the clay court. This climate – although the rainy weather may pose as a spoiler – is ours.

At 3 p.m. tomorrow, a symbolic opening ceremony will mark the formal start of the Davis Cup tie. Minutes after the parade, it’s the warm-up and, bang – the first serve is struck.

The question as to who Filipinos will play tomorrow’s two singles matches is not known to anybody except the players and their coaching staff. We’ll know tomorrow – hours before the match. But I’m sure that Ruben Gonzales will play.

In the doubles on Saturday, it’s almost sure that it will be a Treat Huey and Nino Alcantara duo. They partnered against Thailand and were exceptional.

Doubles is fun. We rarely watch it on TV (though we play it often). But watching top-caliber doubles is more exciting than singles. It’s quicker. The crowd is livelier. Exchanges are like Pacman punches – plenty and fast.

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 (, 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.

Davis Cup tie and the Thais

Ruben Gonzales raised his arms to the sky. He looked up, closed his eyes for a moment, smiled and made the sign of the cross. Thank you, Lord!

Last Sunday afternoon was the most important tennis match in the life of the 27-year-old America-based Filipino. Two years ago, when Cecil Mamiit was the star of our Davis Cup team, Ruben was relegated as substitute. He was good but Cecil and Treat Huey were the superstars. Ruben had to muster his patience to sit and watch. Not two days ago.

Danai Udomchoke, his opponent, was highly-ranked. He had reached world 77, was currently ranked 207 (vs. the 784 singles ranking of Ruben), and Danai had won the Asian Games in 2006.

On paper, Ruben was supposed to lose. On paper. Because on court, he was superb. When the score was 5-4 in the first set, Ruben ran around his backhand and smashed a down-the-line winner. On set point, he Xerox-copied the move: a forehand winner to win the first set, 6-4.

Danai “The Thai” was stunned. Am I not the more experienced netter? the 31-year-old Danai thought to himself.

In Set 2, Ruben did not relax. He exchanged one-handed topspin backhands. He hammered 120-mph service aces. He carressed the yellow ball to score drop shots. Ruben won the second set, 6-3.

This was when the capacity-crowd at Plantation Bay Resort and Spa started to scream louder. The two groups of students from Lapu-Lapu City — in full Philippine-color uniforms — danced and sang cheers. Drum beats revererated in the usually-quiet resort.

Tanakorn Srichaphan, the Thai captain, frowned. How can this be? Down 1-2, Danai was expected to level the score, 2-all. No, no, said Ruben. His resolve was as strong as his spinning forehand. Known as a doubles specialist, this was his moment to shout to all Pinoys, “Hey, I’m a star, too!.”

In Set 3, Danai — whose 5-foot-8 height and lean physique was much smaller than Ruben’s 6’1” muscular frame — was out-hit. Like a weakened boxer whose face is swollen and whose ribcage is half-broken, he was the same on-court.

On the opposite side of the net, Ruben’s confidence was sky-rocketing. He was slicing one-inch-above-the-net shots. With Jean Henri Lhuillier, the CEO of Cebuana Lhuillier, seated meters from the sideline, he wanted to prove to the man that he’s The Man.

He did, winning, 6-3. The crowd stood. We clapped a standing salute. Even our Southeast Asian neighbor-opponents applauded. Masterful. Complete. It was a knock-out of a 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 win. Game over, Philippines. Thanks to our tennis-Pacman: Ruben Gonzales.

ALCANTARA. Despite a 3-1 win, the fifth match was still played.Francis Casey “Niño” Alcantara was asked to play. Hailing from Cagayan de Oro, I used to watch Niño when he was still 8 years old.

Last Sunday night, the Pepperdine University scholar was too good. Final score: 6-4, 4-6, 6-0.

At game’s end, all four players entered the court. They hurled Cebuana Lhuillier shirts to the crowd. Isn’t victory all-so-satisfying?    After losing to Japan and Taiwan in 2011, we defeated Syria and Thailand this 2013. It’s not true, after all, that.. “Dimalas ang Davis Cup sa Cebu.”

Now sporting a 2-2 scorecard, will we see a fifth DC event against New Zealand in Marigondon? Yes! That’s our hope. Our Pinoy netters love Cebu. Days before the weekend, Ruben gorged on lechon! They love the beach setting of one of Asia’s best resorts. They love the Cebuano crowd. Let’s hope for a Cebu return.

PARTY. After the last match (at nearly 9 PM), I joined the two teams and the officials for the post-event party. Instead of pressure-packed tennis, it was the opposite: singing, drinking, eating, talking. Ruben and Treat did a duet song number, “I Want To Be A Billionaire.” Danai sang “Nothing’s Gonna Change My Love For You.”

That’s the beauty of sport. You fight. You pump fists. You stare. You beat. You raise your arms. You make the sign of the cross. Then, after the shaking of hands, you render songs in a duet. That’s doubles!

Thailand vs. Philippines: Who’ll win?

My wife Jasmin and I relish Thai food. Tom Yum? Yum, yum. That’s our favorite spicy soup. Pad Thai, the stir-fried noodle dish? Delicious. Here in Cebu, from Ayala to SM to BTC, we can easily savor Thai cuisine.

Thai massage? Even more prevalent. In almost every major there’s a Nuat Thai or Thewi Thai or Wat Pho.

If we speak of Bangkok, the capital of the Kingdom of Thailand, it’s nearby. Our very own Cebu Pacific now offers thrice-weekly direct flights from Cebu to Bangkok. If we talk of business, in a head-to-head, PH is handily beaten by TH. In terms of GDP, they totaled $643 billion compared to our $417 billion. That’s a big disparity. To think that our 90 million population dwarfs their 67 million.

Why this talk of Thailand? Because this weekend, either the Filipinos will feast on Thai food or our neighboring Thais will gobble up Pinoy food.

It’s tennis. It’s this tomorrow until Sunday. It’s at Plantation Bay Resort and Spa. It’s the Group 2 meeting between these two Southeast Asian nations. It’s Davis Cup.

Last night, together with the Phil. Tennis Association (Philta) and the Thai tennis squads, I attended the traditional Welcome Dinner hosted by owner Manny Gonzalez and GM Efren Belarmino of Plantation Bay. The players were introduced. They got to meet face to face. They danced the tinikling.

This morning, it will be the Draw. This is the occasion when who-will-play-who will be determined. Will Treat Huey play singles tomorrow? If yes, will the world no. 27 (in doubles) meet the Thai top seed, Danai Udomchoke?

Ruben Gonzales, the star of our last Davis Cup tie versus Syria — is he playing tomorrow? Yes, most likely. How about Nino Alcantara? You’ve heard of Nino: he’s Bisaya, from Cagayan de Oro, and now studies in the U.S. under a college scholarship. He’s famous for being a junior Australian Open doubles champion. He’s in Cebu. He’s with the team.

Johnny Arcilla? The indefatigable Bisaya, Johnny is a 7-time PCA Open champ. He played against Syria and won an important match. He completes the four-man squad.

A funny thing happened two nights ago. During the Fellowship Dinner of the 14th Truflex National Age Group event, all four Davis Cuppers — plus their coaches Roland Kraut and Chris Cuarto — attended. They wore all-blue (Yonex) shirts and gorged on lechon as they joined the nearly 200 junior players and parents at Bayswater in Marigondon.

Huey, Gonzales, Arcilla and Alcantara were introduced in the front by Randy Villanueva, Philta’s top official and Davis Cup administrator. Upon the prodding of Randy and forced by the clapping of the crowd, the six danced the Harlem Shuffle! I’m sure that dance was shot in video and uploaded in Facebook. Look for it!

With the Phil-Thai Davis Cup schedule, it’s this: Tomorrow (Friday), it’s the first two singles matches. The first match begins at 3:30 P.M. The second singles match follows right after. (Perfect afternoon/evening setting.) For Saturday — the birthday of the Thai-looking Pinoy, Jourdan Andrew Polotan — it will be just one match: the doubles, to start at 6 P.M. On Sunday, it’s the reverse two singles matches; the first to begin at 3:30 P.M. See you in Plantation Bay!

SUMMER TENNIS CAMP. If you’re looking to join a sports clinic this summer, try tennis. Not yet known to many, we’ve got a world-class tennis coach who now resides in Cebu.

Tommy Frederiksen, who hails from Sweden and who moved here last January, will conduct a month-long tennis camp at the Casino Espanol. It’s open to the public.

Sessions are every Tuesday and Thursday from 8 to 10 A.M. at Casino Espanol’s two clay courts along Ranudo St. The fee for the April 9 to May 7 camp is P2,000. Very reasonable. Players who don’t have rackets can even borrow. The camp is open to children from 6 to 18 years old and to both beginners and intermediate-level players.

Register now! Call Ritchel at 2531260 or Ana/Lex at 4161122 or text Coach Tommy at 0917-3010338.

Want to win? Lose first.

I love failure. No, I don’t want it. Who does? But, when it does happen — and, human beings that we are, failure is bound to happen all the time — then I relish it.

Failure is good. Without it, we don’t learn. We don’t correct. We don’t see what we need to improve; we don’t become better. That’s what failure does. It teaches us. It helps us see the other side; helps us observe what we did right in the past; it humbles us.

I love failure. There’s a saying that goes: “If you don’t fail, then maybe you haven’t tried hard enough.” True. Too often, we’re afraid. We don’t take risks. We look at what can go wrong instead of what can be.

My favorite quotation? “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life…..    and that is why I succeed.”

This man made error after mistake after missed shot. And that’s why he’s Michael Jordan.

I love failure. This is why I love sports so much. It teaches us about life. It teaches us how to live life. Because in sports — as I shared two mornings ago at Bright Academy when I spoke during the Sports Fest Opening — in any game we play, there are always two possible outcomes: either you win or you lose.

There will always be a loser in sports. But when you lose, it doesn’t mean you’re a loser. It means you lost one game. You can use that failure as an impetus to practice harder, jump higher, run faster. You can win. In the next game. Yes you can. Because of failure.

I love failure. I like it so much that, two years ago in my speech before a full house crowd in Ayala Center Cebu — for the 29th SAC-SMB Cebu Sports Awards, attended by Cebu’s top athletes and sports personalities; all of them champions — guess what topic I discussed?

Failure. You know why? Because as successful as those honorees were, they’ll fail. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe in next month’s tournament. Maybe to a more inspired opponent who they handily beat before.

Failure is as human to you and me as the air, the darkness at night, the ball that is round. But failure is temporary. It’s what you do after you fail that’s essential. Do you rebound after? Do you smile, swallow the defeat, and vow to become a new You and better You? That’s when failure is good.

Remember Nadal? Out for seven months with a knee injury, is he now a failed athlete, a footnote to the greatness of Novak and Murray? Ha-ha. Never. In Rafa’s mind molded of Spanish steel, he’ll use that “failure” (he failed to compete in so many events, including failing to defend his Olympic gold medal) as extra motivational sauce to spice up his forehand. Watch out, Rog.

I love failure. Winners do. Of course, deep inside, they hate it. Champions despise it. But, when it does happen, the hurt is being transformed into a positive force.

Remember LeBron? And how the world conspired to hate him when he left Cleveland and transferred to Florida? He swallowed that humble Miami pie and, guess what, he’s now got an NBA ring and an Olympic gold to go with his MVP trophies.

I love failure. You should, too. Use it. Turn around your failed status. It’s all in your brain. Success is not due to your present circumstances — it’s up to your mind. If you want it; if you program your brain and change that dark state into a spirit that says I-can-do-it, then here’s the secret: You can do it.

Look at the Davis Cup team. Twice losers in our first two outings in Plantation Bay Resort and Spa, many said “dimalas ang Cebu.” We can’t win here. We’re not strong. Well, we beat Syria and will face Thailand this April 5 to 7. I was there the whole of last weekend and you can’t describe the extra joy and extra sweetness of victory — finally winning after losing.

That’s what failure does. It makes the victory tastier; it makes the come-from-behind win more savory; it means more. Relish failure. And be thankful to God when you rise and finally triumph. Because you will.

Smashing! The Oz Open + Davis Cup

If you’re a tennis fan… last week, this week and next week are tennis heaven moments.

Monday last week, the Australian Open began. It’s the first Grand Slam tournament of 2013. It’s Down Under. It’s 41 degrees of scorching heat. It’s the blue court swarmed with shirtless, screaming fans. The only “negative” in Melbourne is the absence of one man: Nadal, Rafa. But the Three Kings are still present: King Roger, Mighty Novak, and Olympic gold medalist Andy Murray.

Among the ladies, Maria Sharapova is forever blonde, sexy and screaming. The 6-foot-1 poster girl of the WTA Tour will be hard to beat. Now that Serena Williams is out, I hope Maria (the ex-girlfriend of Dr. Nonito Narvasa) wins.

If there’s one major I’m itching to visit, it’s Australia. The continent is nearby. The tickets — unlike Wimbledon — are affordable. I remember, years back, staring at the photos shown to me by Atan Guardo in Rod Laver Arena. Same with Ernie Delco. These two Cebuano friends have seen the tennis Wizards of Oz. Hope to do the same soon — while Roger’s still (unlike Rafa) healthy.

The Oz Open lasts for two weeks. It ends this Sunday with the men’s final. How about next week?

SYRIA. It’s Davis Cup week. All around the globe, nations will compete in this annual country-vs-country meet. The Philippines? We’re hosting it. Where?

Where else but our very own, Cebu. Plantation Bay Resort and Spa will, for the third time, host the Davis Cup tie, this time called “Philippines versus Syria.”

In 2011, we faced and lost to Japan. Later that same year, we faced and lost to Chinese-Taipei (Taiwan). Will next weekend — February 1 to 3 — be different?

Let’s watch! Entrance is free. No kidding. Yes. All you need to do is to trek over to Mactan island, meander inside the world-class lagoon near Marigondon, and sit at the comfortable blue seats that surround the gray court.

Even better news: It won’t be hot. If you were present in the two previous DC events, you got burned. Because, with Cecil Mamiit as stalwart, we wanted to burn the opponents with our summer sun. Not this time.

This time, the first match will start at 3:30 P.M. Very comfortable. The schedule is as follows: On Friday (Day 1, February 1), it will be two singles matches, best-of-five. On Saturday, it will be the lone doubles match. On Sunday, it will be the two reverse singles matches.

Tennis lover or not, there’s no excuse for you not to attend. The Davis Cup — alongside another Azkals exhibition, the Ironman 70.3 and Xterra triathlons, the Cebu Marathon — is one of the year’s biggest sporting events. It’s international. It’s one on one. It’s right here at home.

Can we win this time? Yes. First, we have home-court advantage. This “tie” (in DC parlance, an event is called a “tie”) was supposed to have been held in Syria. But we know all the gunfire and bombings on-going there. So, it’s here. Two, the Syrians are not as formidable as the Japanese or Taiwanese. Three, there’s that loud, Sinulog-type Cebuano cheering. (For those who watched the PHL-Taiwan event, you’ll recall that some Taiwanese business owners here brought a “hakot” crowd — their employees — to cheer for Team Taiwan. This time, I doubt it there’ll be much cheering from Syria.)

Our players: Treat Huey, Ruben Gonzalez, Johnny Arcilla and Onyok Anasta. They’re familiar faces. Which is good because they’re familiar with the slow clay-court of Plantation Bay.

Team Philippines is expected to land at the MCIAA this Sunday. For the next several days, they’ll practice. On Wednesday night, it’s the official, by-invitation-only Welcome Dinner, participated-in by the ITF officials, the players, their coaches. On Thursday, the draw — who will face who — will happen. And, of course, on Friday, the fireworks — not by Dragon Fireworks, not in SM or in Ayala, and not at night — the tennis fireworks using rackets as weapons and yellow balls as bullets, will commence at 3:30. Go, PILIPINAS. See you there!

Davis Cup volleys back to Plantation Bay

The biggest annual team sporting event returns to Cebu. Backed by a 112-year-old history, the Davis Cup is one of sport’s oldest and most revered of competitions. It pits nation vs. nation in the sport of that matches forehands versus backhands.

This February 1 to 3, 2013, the shores of Plantation Bay Resort and Spa will once again host the Davis Cup. Cebu is lucky. Last year, we were fortunate to organize two DC ties: Phils. vs. Japan (March 2011) and Phils. vs Chinese-Taipei (September 2011). One-and-a-half months from now, Team Philippines will face Syria.

It wasn’t supposed to be here. Syria was scheduled to host our Pinoy netters. But we know the bloody situation the country is in now — thus, the move to our Southeast Asian nation.

Tickets will be sold — for free! This is the big news. Plus, here’s another one: While we lost both 2011 contests, the one this February favors us. On paper, led by world-ranked (doubles) No. 35 Treat Conrad Huey, we are expected to win. That’s why, at yesterday’s MOA signing and press conference at Plantation Bay attended by Mayor Paz Radaza, Philta’s VP Randy Villanueva, Lapu-Lapu City Councilor Harry Radaza, Plantation Bay GM Efren Belarmino and Cebuana Lhuillier’s big boss Anton Arrieta, the sign we flashed wasn’t a thumbs-up or victory symbol — it was the “No. 3” sign. It was to signify, on Cebu’s 3rd attempt, that we hope to emerge victorious. (Harry predicts a “third time lucky” event; we can also call it “third time’s a charm.”)

Our players? Three are almost-sure to be selected: Treat Huey, Ruben Gonzalez and Johnny Arcilla. The fourth spot will be decided among the trio of Niño Alcantara, Jeson Patrombon and Onyok Anasta.

Like in previous occasions, the format of the Davis Cup weekend is the same: Friday (Feb. 1) will offer two singles matches; Saturday is for the lone doubles match; and Sunday are the two reverse singles matches.

Lapu-Lapu City — because of the Cobra Energy Drink Ironman 70.3 and the Davis Cup — has risen to become a sporting powerhouse city. Led by their sports czar, Harry Radaza, the city has asked another sports enthusiast (and ultra-marathoner), Hembler Mendoza, to lead their efforts in sports and tourism. The year 2013 promises to be loaded with events for the city named after our country’s first hero.


Cecil teaches us a lesson in losing

Losing is painful. Last March, we experienced it. Last Sunday, once more, we succumbed to the same heartache. Sport is brutal. While one player raises his fists to the heavens and praises The Almighty, at the opposite end of the net, another slumps his head and closes his eyes.

We won and lost last weekend. In the final tally against a youthful team from Chinese Taipei, we lost in the Davis Cup. The score: 3-2. It was close. Too close. And that’s what makes the Friday to Sunday activity distressing.

In Friday’s first match at 10 A.M., our legendary netter named Cecil Mamiit won the first set. And while he lost the second set, in the crucial third set, he led 6-3. He had three set points. Would you believe, in two of those points, the shots from Chen Ti clipped the top of the net and, for a split second, the ball hovered on the air… then dropped on our side. Point, Chen. The crowd could not believe it. Then, as bad luck would have it, Cecil lost the third set tiebreaker and, eventually, the match. 1-0, Taiwan.

Treat Conrad Huey saved the day with a Thank-God-Its-Friday type of inspired play, swatting aces, slicing drop shots, easily disposing of Jimmy Wang in straight sets. 1-all by the end of Day One.

The Pinoys who gathered at Plantation Bay Resort and Spa were optimistic. This was better than our contest versus Japan last March when we trailed 0-2. On Saturday, we stood confident. The doubles pairing of Treat and Cecil was experienced and formidable. We won the first set. Easy. We lost the second. We won the third set. Easy. We needed only one more set… We lost the fourth set. Then, at six games all, with Treat’s left-handed serve ready to fire, he misfired. We got broken. The Taiwanese cheered “Jai-Ho!” They high-fived. After four hours of ping-pong games using yellow balls, we lost 8-6 in the fifth set.

Down 1-2, the hundreds who paraded towards Marigondon to sit on the world-class bleachers prepared by Mayor Paz Radaza and Councilor Harry Radaza of Lapu-Lapu City sat dejected. How can this be? How can this awful moment happen again?

Later that night, I spotted Cecil Mamiit having dinner by the pool with his team. Downtrodden? Feeling lowly and sad? Was that how our team captain felt? No! If you had spoken to him that evening and didn’t know what happened just 150 minutes earlier, you’d think Team Philippines won. That’s how upbeat Cecil was. “Don’t worry,” he said. “We’ll win tomorrow. That was just extra practice. We wanted to provide more drama for the GMA TV network!” Smiling. That’s how he looked.

That night—regardless of what happens the next morning—I came to this realization: When you’re a top-flight athlete, you have to think like Cecil. What happened in the past is past. Nobody has a tape recorder to rewind the past.

Cecil had to completely erase the pain, replace it with happy thoughts, smile, get excited while everybody else looked sour, and expect to win. That’s the mindset of a champion. That’s why he’s beaten Michael Chang. That’s why Cecil was formerly world no. 72. That’s why he’s El Capitan. Positive, positive, positive. That’s what he taught me. That’s what he imparts to us.

Of course, by now, we know what happened the following day: Treat Huey led 3-1 in the first set, led 5-2 in the second set… but still lost in three sets. We lost. But Mr. Mamiit never focused on the negative. And, on the positive side, Jeson Patrombon showed the loudest cheerers of the weekend what a Bisaya is made of. (The joke: our team is composed of three Fil-Ams and one Il-Am… because Jeson is from Iligan.)

Jeson beat the former world no. 85 (Wang) in three sets. Cecil, who sat as coach to the 18-year-old, saw for himself the future Cecil… in Jeson.

Davis Cup photos

Jeson Patrombon (below) saves the day for Team Philippines, winning the 5th match in three sets. In the final tally, though, the Chinese Taipei squad defeated our Philippine team, 3-2. Sayang. We had plenty of chances. From Cecil Mamiit’s three set points in Day One to the painful 8-6 loss in the fifth set in Day Two to Treat Huey’s break-of-serve leads in the first and second sets in Sunday’s finale. Still, it was an exciting finish.. especially with the 18-year-old Iligan City player’s (Jeson’s) victory over Jimmy Wang, formerly ranked No. 85 in the world.

To Cecil, Treat, Ruben, Jeson, Johnny and Randy Villanueva… the loss was painful but, like you did last March against Japan, you gave it everything you got. You’re the pride of Philippine Tennis. The Cebuanos applaud you!

Check out more photos in this link.

Ace! Tomorrow, it’s the first serve of Davis Cup

Cecil, Jeson, Ruben, Johnny and Treat

At 10 A.M. today at the Lapu-Lapu City Hall, the official draw of the Davis Cup tie between the Philippines and Chinese Taipei will happen.

Tomorrow, the Battle of Mactan starts. The first match commences at 10 in the morning. The second match immediately follows. All the sword- and racket-fighting will happen just kilometers away from the actual site where Lapu Lapu killed Magellan. Cecil Mamiit and Treat Conrad Huey are expected to play the two singles games tomorrow. On Saturday, starting at 12 noon, it’s the doubles. Then, during the finale on Sunday, it’s the two reverse singles.

We’re lucky. One, it appears that the top two netters of Taiwan are not standing today in our island. Lu Yen-hsun and Yang Tsung-hua (unless they make a surprise landing) are in China for an ATP Challenger event.

Two, the battle is not in Taipei or in Manila—but here in our Visayan city.

Three, the “extras” that the organizers have prepared for the crowd are ready…  I was at the Plantation Bay Resort and Spa tennis court two afternoons ago to watch Jeson Patrombon, Ruben Gonzales and the rest of our PHL team practice. Nets (or, diffusers, as we call them) have been installed above the bleachers to help shade the spectators.

Also, to those having difficulty finding a ride to Marigondon, free shuttle buses can be availed of. From 6:30 to 8:30 A.M. tomorrow until Sunday, these buses will park at the South Surface Parking area of Ayala Center (near Oh! George)—ready to ferry the viewers.

Friday (tomorrow) is the most crucial day of the weekend. That’s why I urge everyone… watch tomorrow. It’s the best tennis day of the weekend. Bring your cap and sunscreen, wear shorts… and go tomorrow.

See you at the Davis Cup!

DJOKOVIC. If you think, because of the sweat that drips and the muscles that flex, that sport is all physical… think again. It’s mental. Sure, sport requires the physical. Boxers jab. Sprinters burst. Swimmers breathe. Volleyball spikers jump and slam. In sport, if your body is weak and wobbly, forget it. You might as well stick to painting or be Charice Pempengco.

But this I also know is true: Sport is mental. While your arms strike and your legs flutter, who controls these bodily parts? Your brain.

Novak Djokovic’s brain is unyielding. It’s the most forceful, robust and unbending brain in tennis today. At the other day’s US Open final, he beat the 10-slam champ, Rafa Nadal. Djokovic was injured after that third set. His back ached. His serve ached. But, in the end, it was Nadal who was in pain.

In pain from the most painful of losses. He lost the Open in New York. He lost in Wimbledon. He lost to the same Serbian strongman six times out of six times this 2011… all of them in finals.

Nobody does this to Rafa. Not even the Swiss. In the same way that when Roger Federer faces Rafa from across the net, a simmer of doubt weaves through his brain, it’s the same with Rafa vs. Novak.

Rafa knows. Novak knows. They both know who’s going to win. Mental. It’s all in the mind. But, for all the successes this year of Novak (John McEnroe calls it “one of the greatest ever”), his total earnings is ONLY $10.5 million. Only? Yes, only. Because while he won 64 of 66 matches this year, his earnings pale in comparison to one Pinoy who’ll pocket at least $20,000,000 in a short 36 minutes (maximum) this November 12.

ULTRAMAN. Congratulations to Joel Garganera. This man is unstoppable. His perseverance is inexhaustible. I recall, together with Atan and Jeson Guardo, us meeting at a coffee shop in Ayala a couple of years ago. I gave Joel a few tips on how to tackle the Hong Kong Marathon, their group’s first 42K run.

Last weekend at the Warrior 53K Ultramarathon, Mr. Garganera did not just finish—he was the 4th fastest runner! To top that, here’s an even more amazing fact: that was Joel’s 19th marathon/ultra-marathon—in a span of just 2 1/2 years.

FINALLY… Have you watched the 24/7 HBO special on Mayweather-Ortiz in YouTube? You should.

Can Huey treat us to a DC win over Taiwan?

Everybody who wears red gloves, who clenches their fists, grits their teeth, and confronts this Filipino diamond named Manny Pacquiao says the same thing: I’ll beat that Man.

Everybody, at the end of the 3rd or the 7th or the 12th round, with eyes swollen, ribs mutilated, cheekbones tarnished—all testify in unison: Man, he’s too good.

The last time someone defeated Pacquiao? The year was 2007. His name wasn’t David Diaz or Ricky Hatton or Joshua Clottey. All those and many more lost to MP.

The last one? A she: Darlene Antonino-Custodio. That was fought in the political ring—an arena unlike Manny’s preferred stage.

With boxing, it’s been 14 straight wins for Pacman. Not since March 2005—or six-and-a-half years ago; against San Miguel Beer endorser Erik Morales—has our modern-day Jose Rizal experienced a loss.

This November 12, Manny is assured of Victory No. 15 in the same way that Ateneo will surely win the UAAP crown. It’s a future fact that we know today.

Looking back, the first time Juan Manuel Marquez battled Pacquiao was in 2004. The score was a draw. Then, the second time they punctured each other’s abdomens, J-M-M beat M-P. You and I witnessed it. Yes, it was a close, close war—but I thought our man lost. Yet… our Man’ won. That was 3 ½ years ago.

Two months from now, when the Mexican and the taga-GenSan meet again, it won’t be a perplexing debate to judge. Marquez is 38 years old. That’s way too young to be a grandfather—but way too old to be a fighter. Manny will ambush him; he’ll bat his head with his knuckles; he’ll bust his jaws; Manny will wallop every inch of Juan Manuel’s bare chest and face and bloody him down to the floor of Las Vegas.

Bob Arum, nearly 80, is boxing’s Mr. Experience. He knows and we know that, this November, Manny will use the Mexican as a punching bag for next year’s Mayweather quarrel.

TREAT HUEY is in the Round of 16 of the US Open. Today, he and partner Somdev Devvarman will play the Indian pair of Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhuphati. Their match is scheduled at the Grandstand Court.

I’ve had the chance, exactly a dozen years ago this week, to sit on the hallowed chairs of the Grandstand Court. Unlike the Arthur Ashe Stadium, which seats 22,000, and the Louis Armstrong Stadium (10,000 capacity), the Grandstand Court (6,000 seats) is cozier. I hope their match gets shown on Balls TV.

Have you been watching the US Open? The early sleeper that I am, I haven’t. This event starts 11 A.M. in New York and, with our 12-hour time difference, this translates to an 11 P.M. beginning here.

I did watch portions of Novak Djokovic last Sunday morning. With his mental strength like that of UFC champion Anderson Silva, the Serbian world No. 1 aims to add a third major this 2011 to his Australian Open and Wimbledon victories.

DAVIS CUP. Buy your tickets now! This was the unanimous message at our press conference yesterday attended by several officials: Ken Salimbangon, Nestor Toledo, Randy Villanueva, Lapu-Lapu City Councilor Harry Radaza, Jess Lagman and Dr. Tony San Juan.

Ticket prices for next weekend’s (Sept. 16 to 18) Davis Cup matches between our Philippines versus Taiwan (Chinese Taipei) start at P200. Yes. No typographical error there. That’s P200 for one full day of international sporting competition.

Why the low prices? “Cecil (Mamiit) is requesting that we fill-up the entire grandstand with Cebuanos,” said Philta’s Randy Villanueva. Last March, when we faced Japan, the clay-court at the Plantation Bay Resort and Spa was about 70 percent full. Not bad. But not good enough. Echoed Hon. Harry Don Radaza: “We want 100 percent capacity.”

Tickets are available at Chris Sports at Ayala Center or SM City. You can also call (032) 518-4455 or 0923-9784497.

You’ll be treated to the newfound confidence of Treat. You’ll observe the Michael Chang-like fighting spirit of Mr. Mamiit. You’ll witness, for the first time, the forehand of Jeson Patrombon and the smash of Ruben Gonzales.

Don’t miss this treat.

The Cup of Davis returns to the City of Lapu-Lapu

Cecil Mamiit and Treat Huey

Tennis, like boxing, is one on one. When Rafa plays Roger, it’s like Pacquiao-Marquez. No other person, except that referee, is inside that court or boxing ring. Mano-a-mano. That’s boxing. Like the game Djokovic plays.

But Davis Cup is different. It’s team against team. It’s country versus nation. Coaches are allowed. It’s one’s national anthem pitted against another’s national flag.

This September, it’s back. D.C. RETURNS. After a six-month hiatus when our players with the same Filipino blood named Huey and Mamiit battled against the Japanese warriors, DC volleys back.

This time, it’s Philippines versus Chinese-Taipei. The date: Sept. 16, 17 and 18. That’s a weekend of sunny skies, 123-mph ace serves, Plantation Bay bikini-clad sexy girls, and, yes, hopefully, a victory lap for Team PHL.

Mayor Paz Radaza ought to be applauded. Same with Councilor Harry Radaza. This auntie-and-nephew tandem has, in just 13 months since they’ve been together in public office in this political term… they’ve overthrown CamSur as our sports capital. Davis Cup last March. Davis Cup next month. Manny Pacquiao inside the Hoops Dome, serenading the Cebuanos—for free! AJ Banal and Michael Domingo, besting their visitors, also at the Hoops Dome. Tri Lapu-Lapu 113 in December. Sports and Tourism are one in this city made famous by our first Filipino hero, Datu Lapu Lapu.

Randy Villanueva, the Vice-President of the Philippine Tennis Association (Philta) and the administrator for the Davis Cup, himself deserves an ovation. Though residing in Manila throughout his young life, his family hails from Cebu. That’s why he’s bringing DC to Sugbu.

Without Randy’s push, this event—which started in 1900 as a friendly between the U.S. and Britain and is now the largest team sport on earth—will not be held here.

Plantation Bay Resort and Spa, led by “The best General in Cebu,” according to Nimrod Quiñones of The Freeman (that’s General Manager Efren Belarmino), is once again hosting the Davis Cup.

Ken Salimbangon, the founder of the Cebu International Tennis Centre, and Jess Lagman, the Regional VP for Philta, are key organizers next month.

What’s new when we encounter the Taiwanese?

First, the ticket prices: only P200/day or P500 for the weekend. That’s inexpensive.

Two: It’s desperation time. What I mean is this: This DC tie is crucial because it’s the last stop for the Group 1 teams. If we lose, we get downgraded to Group 2. If we beat the Taiwanese, we stay in the upper bracket.

Why is Group 1 important? If this were a ladder, this is the last hurdle prior to the vaunted World Group, where the top 16 nations in the world compete. The likes of Nadal and Djokovic? Yes, of course, Spain and Serbia are in the World Group.

Japan? The nation that defeated us five months ago? They’re playing India next month to enter the World Group. In a draw of lots, they could have faced a country like Switzerland. And we know the Swiss No.1, right?

Theoretically, had we beaten the Japanese and drew the Swiss… Roger Federer could be visiting Plantation Bay next month! (Imagine the excitement of British Honorary Consul Moya Jackson…)

But back to reality: It’s the Taiwanese next month. Is this team strong? Yes. If Yen-Hsun Lu arrives at the MCIAA next month, we’re in trouble. Ranked 67 in the world, he is Asia’s No. 1. At Wimbledon last year, Lu reached the quarterfinals (the first Asian to do so in 15 years) and defeated the strongest server on earth, Andy Roddick. Their 4-6, 7-6, 7-6, 6-7, 9-7 match took 4 hours and 36 minutes.

I’ve watched Lu. At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Jasmin and I saw him play Andy Murray in the first round. After Murray lost the first set, we moved to another court, thinking Murray would recover. We were wrong. Lu won, 7-6, 6-4. So, bad news if Lu arrives. His teammates? Also good: Tsung-Hua Yang, a former junior No.1, who is ranked No. 250. There’s Ti Chen, world no. 331. These guys are good—but beatable.

See you next month!

Cecil lost in tennis — but won over Cebu

Last Sunday, he vomited. Twice. Head bowed, shoulders drooping, his face grimaced. His Babolat racquet nearly fell off his weakened fingers. Cecil Mamiit, after nearly six hours on the oven-like tennis court last Friday, sprinting and smashing and sliding from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m., was fatigued. His body ached. It was his third straight day under the intense Mactan seaside heat–the hottest three days of 2011. His body protested.

(Photo by Mario Maluenda Aguilar)

Yet, this braveheart wouldn’t say no. Quit? Retire? Give up? Over 1,200 spectators last Sunday, all watching our No.1, would have understood. But Cecil doesn’t quit. Instead, after vomiting and losing that second set to Go Soeda of Japan, he sliced an uppercut. Like the boxers of the ALA Gym whom he befriended, Cecil was a boxer on tennis shorts. He fought. He jabbed–punching volleys to win the third set. He had break point chances–I counted six–in the fourth set. Had he converted–he’d have won the pivotal fourth set and possibly scored a come-from-behind victory.

But, no. In the end, with his body exasperated, he lost. Our Davis Cuppers were defeated, 3-1. But those are only numbers because, to all who watched, we won. Cecil won. He won the hearts and applause of Cebuanos. Call it determination. Call it guts. In this game of teenagers, call it a 34-year-old grandfather’s willpower.

Cecil Mamiit may not be Manny Pacquiao. But, in fighting spirit and tenacity, they are equals. Cecil may not be the Azkals–their popularity ratings are not equal. But, amongst those who watched last weekend, their prominence is the same.

In truth, we could have won. The final score, 3-1, could have been reversed. We almost did win. We should have. In that first match on Friday, Cecil had three chances to win. He held match points. He led 4-0 in the deciding set. Given that victory plus the doubles win on Saturday, a 2-1 PHL lead would have been insurmountable.

But, this is the beauty–and agony–of sports. Victory is not attained in a mere five hours and 4-0 lead. Often, it takes six hours of pain. Yes, it was painful to watch that loss. More so because of the suffering inflicted on Mamiit: a counterpuncher who is made to languish by running left, forward, right, backwards. While Go Soeda is effortless like Roger, Cecil is Rafa: he’s made to sweat, grind, agonize. And vomit.

Still, kudos to Japan. And while the loss was disappointing, everything else was near-perfect. The crowd was incredible. I’ve watched many DC ties in Manila and, I’m proud to say, the Cebuanos reign. We are loud, drum-beating, noisy–complete with sexy dancers called Harry’s Angels.

Cecil mentioned this support to me at our small-group dinner last Sunday. The cheering boosted him, he said. The passionate audience bolstered his weakened body.

Harry Radaza? He celebrated his birthday last Sunday and, though he didn’t get the birthday gift via a victory, the impressive Lapu-Lapu City hosting made the city councilor drink bottomless San Mig Light… (To Lapu-Lapu City, to Mayor Paz Radaza, and the rest of the team—especially Plantation Bay–everybody was superb!)

Back to Cecil, I spent considerable time with him the past two weeks. While Treat Huey, for example, is quiet, Cecil is entertaining and gregarious. Minutes after Sunday’s loss, he had a mix of emotions. He wiped away tears. He was tossed in the air by the Japanese. He was eloquent in the farewell speech. As dozens swarmed him for photos, he grinned.

Then… he jumped in the pool! With complete tennis attire, he dove. He then shouted to the stunned audience–who wants this shirt? A young lady jumped to the pool. Anybody want my Nike shoes? Two others plunged the water. They each grabbed a shoe and wrestled for the other. Finally, a girl screamed, “Can you give us your tennis shorts?” Ha-ha.

His loss erased by the incredible affection the Cebuanos had showered upon him, Cecil teased the crowd by slowly pulling them down… Cecil paused, smiled and—as if to say goodbye to Cebu–submerged back into the pool.

See all the photos here and here.