Serena’s back (not fat!) and why Roger’s bad

Hours after her Australian Open win, Serena Williams was asked: Are you in better shape than people give you credit for?

“I definitely think so,” she said. “Just because I have large bosoms, and I have a big ass (laughter), I swear, my waist is 30 inches –  29 to 30 inches, it’s really small! I have the smallest waist, but just because I have those two assets, it looks like I’m not fit. Just in the locker room staring at my body, I’m like, “Am I not fit, really not fit? Or is it just that I have all these extra assets?” You know, it just looks like I’m not fit. I don’t care if I didn’t eat for two years, I still wouldn’t be a size 2. No matter how slim I am, I always have this and that. I’m just not that way, I’m. . . bootylicious, so to say.”

Serena, no doubt, was fit. How can you claim being unfit if you win three-hour-long matches that score 8-6 in the third set? There’s also no question that Serena’s back. And so will, very soon, Venus Williams. During the years 2000-2003, when the sisters reigned over Tennisdom as the world’s top two, few doubted they’d be toppled. But after a combined 12 Grand Slam singles titles, the Williamses got bored. They published a book, appeared in The Simpsons, and designed a clothing line named Aneres (spell it backwards). They did everything else off-court to distract them on-court.

But now, Serena’s back. Good for tennis, bad for Maria.

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Roger Federer has a split personality. Don’t you find him mean? Watch him play. He smiles, shakes your hand, and appears to be a nice guy then all of a sudden he runs you left and right, drills a forehand you can’t smell, makes you look like a beginner (Roddick?), and then he shakes your hand again because… you’ve lost, he’s won. What has Federer proven?

He’s proven that he’s unstoppable. Like a bullet train with a mission to tour the world and collect trophies at each station, that’s it, The Federer Express. The question today is not whether he’ll break the all-time Grand Slam singles titles record of Pete Sampras (at 14), the question is if he’ll break Steffi Graf’s all-time-mankind-record of 22 majors. At only 25 years old, why not?

The French Open. The only Grand Slam title he hasn’t won. Will he? Of course he will! And it may come as early as this May. Unlike Sampras (who never won Roland Garros), Federer is a baseliner willing to exchange 27 shots with a Spaniard like Tommy Robredo. He’s patient. And isn’t patience the prerequisite to a dance in Paris?

Here’s the scary part: Federer’s getting “betterer.” He is. He’s improving. Isn’t that scary? Just when everyone “oooh’s” and “ahhh’s” and says he’s “the best ever,” he wins. And wins. And wins the Oz Open without dropping a set.

How do you beat him? How do you wound a warrior who looks like Russell Crowe in The Gladiator? I found the answer from Rod Laver, who said, “The best way to beat him would be to hit him over the head with a racket.” (Laver, of course, was joking.)

Here’s another scary thought: The Fed has so many weapons. He can slice. He can serve-and-volley. He can drill that forehand down-the-line. He can flick that backhand cross-court. He can play defense. Offense. Ace. Lob. Drop shot. And the best part: he plays so relaxed. And this is why I think Federer will last a long, long time. He’s relaxed. And so, when we talk of injuries, he’s less prone. Compare his game with Rafael Nadal. The Spaniard uses an extreme grip where he swivels his arm and snaps the wrist to smother the ball. Nadal grinds it out. He’s physical. Federer? He’s Mikhail Baryshnikov. He’s a ballet dancer. He floats. Glides.

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Was it any coincidence that a few hours after Roger won, Tiger Woods captured the Buick Open? Nah. I don’t think so. You see, these two buddies call each other often to say, “Hey! I just won. Your turn!” The other replies, “Sure!”

Both, as you’ve read, are on winning streaks. Tiger won his seventh straight PGA event, Roger his third straight Grand Slam title. At this frenetic pace, it won’t be long before “Roger” is placed alongside the names MJ, Ali, Tiger, Pele, and Lance.

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Split-personality. Why did I say that? Because as “bad” as Federer is on-court, he’s such a nice guy off it. Did you see the finals against Fernando Gonzalez? You saw what Roger did after the match? This I’ve never seen before: After he fell to the ground, raised his racket and arms to the Melbourne sky, and put on his Rolex, you know what he did? He visited the wounded. He went to Gonzalez, who was seated, bent down beside him to talk. He consoled him. He laughed with him. He told him, “You played a great match…”

What a nice guy. Here’s more: During Roger’s acceptance speech, he nodded to his girlfriend and his coach, but never mentioned their names. But when he spoke of Gonzalez’s coaching staff, he lavished them with praise.

Why do opponents not mind losing to him? There’s your answer.

Categorized as Tennis

Maayong Pag-abot sa Sugbu! Pit Senyor!

To all visitors to Cebu: Welcome to the Land of Lapu-Lapu, to the host of the 12th Asean Summit, to RP’s oldest city and it’s oldest street named Colon.

Welcome to this narrow Visayan island spanning 225 kms. from Daan-Bantayan to Santander, surrounded by 167  small islands—including the white sand beaches of Mactan, Camotes and Malapascua. Welcome to the place Condenast Travellers Magazine once named “the 7th best Asian-Pacific island destination.” (Although we Cebuanos feel we deserve the top rank!)

Welcome to the kitchen where dried mangoes, chicharon, dimsum steamed rice, puso and danggit are concocted. Where the headquarters of conglomerates family-named Aboitiz and Lhuillier and Gaisano are based; where, as you read this, call centers at the Asiatown I.T. Park are abuzz with queries from Texas to Toronto; where, at noon, you can relax at the five-star Mactan Shangri-La Resort or, at night, watch five thousand and five stars from above the mountains at Tops. Welcome!

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Today, where are you watching? Me? Alongside 11 other family members, I’ll be sitting from the grandstand of the Cebu City Sports Center. So should you. It’s my third trip (in four years) up the bleachers and, as a tip to balikbayans, it offers the best view. Along the streets of Osmena Blvd., sure, you can catch a glimpse of the costumes and dances, but they’re nothing like the grandstand. From up there, there’s a humongous stage built by Sinulog executive director Ricky Ballesteros and you can see everything—including the 7 p.m. fireworks show, Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, if you’re a fan; the crowd-favorite Tribu Basakanon… Everything.

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AND NOW TO SPORTS……. At the Australian Open, Serena Williams barely escaped the other day. Down a set and 4-5 to the fifth-seed Nadia Petrova, she scrambled for the yellow ball, fired down 202-kph aces, pumped her fist to the Melboure clouds, and scored an “upset.” At times, Serena looked like her former world no.1 self. But you can’t help but see how fat she’s become. Serena’s always been bulkier compared to her sister Venus, but she’s become too bulky. Look at her legs. They’re thicker than Veco posts. Her behind? They’re two balloons glued side-by-side. Still, she possesses two most valuable traits—power and will. The result? A WW: Williams Win.

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Today, the match to watch is Roger Federer vs. Novak Djokovic. If you think Roger The Great will work with Swiss precision like the Rolex watch he wears, you’re right. He’ll win. But here’s a point: Djokovic is good. Very good. He’s ranked no. 14. And he’s only 19 years old. I saw portions of his match the other day and he’s complete. Serve, good. Forehand, good. Movement, good. Backhand, excellent. It will be a tough delivery assignment for the Federer Express.

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The opponent of Djokovic last Friday? Danai Udomchoke. Familiar name? Must be. Two years ago during the SEA Games in Manila, Udomchoke played for Thailand. I recall Dr. Ronnie Medalle and I sitting a few meters away in awe. In the finals, Udomchoke faced our Fil-Am Cecil Mamiit. What a match! The first set went to Cecil, the second to the Danai; in the last set, the Filipino snatched the win and the gold medal. It was a proud moment when Mamiit danced “Pinoy Ako.”

Fast forward last month in Doha, Mamiit and Udomchoke joined the Asian Games. They both reached the semis. Cecil lost, Danai won. In the finals, Udomchoke won and, with it, the Asian Games gold medal hung on his neck.

Earlier this week, Danai continued the streak by beating former French Open champion Juan Carlos Ferrero. Known for a country with only one superstar (Paradorn Srichaphan), Thailand has found a new king.

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THE NFL. You may or may not be a fan of American football, but this game you can’t miss. Tomorrow morning (7:30, RP time) will be the most awaited game of the calendar: the New England Patriots vs. the Indianapolis Colts. What’s exciting about this game?

Five words: Tom Brady versus Peyton Manning.

These two are the quarterbacks. They call the plays, tell which runner runs where, they hold the ball, find an open man and throw, throw, throw.

Tom Brady is the QB of the Patriots. In the playoffs, he’s amassed an unequaled record: 12 wins, 1 loss. He’s led New England to three Super Bowl titles in six years. And by the way, a tip to Maria Sharapova, Brady’s still single.

Peyton Manning is his arch-rival. He has as many records as Brady, the notable one, “the most no. of touchdown passes in a season (49 in 2004).” But his negative mark? During playoffs, he wilts. His scorecard: 5 wins, 6 losses. Who’ll win the QB match-up? Who team will to the Super Bowl on February 4 in Miami? Find the answer tomorrow. The game starts 7:30 a.m. (RP time) over ESPN. Replay is at 6 tomorrow night. My pick? At game’s end, I hope Brady dances the Sinulog.

Categorized as Cebu

Down Under, Tennis is on Top

In tennis, like in golf, there are four grand slams. “The Majors,” they’re called. There’s the French Open, or “Roland Garros,” held every May in the world’s most romantic city. There’s Wimbledon, the tour’s undisputed “most prestigious,” every June in the land of royalty. There’s the US Open in loud New York, the last slam bang of the year, every September.

Today, we have the Australian Open.

Wimbledon? The French Open? Why, they’re in Europe. The US Open? Of course, it’s in America. Not to be outdone, we’ve got our own: the Australian Open, dubbed “The Grand Slam of Asia/Pacific.”

It all began as the Australasian Championships in 1905. That’s a long time ago. To be exact, 102 years back. By 1927, the name had changed to the Australian Championships and finally, in 1969, when amateurs and professionals competed side-by-side, it’s been the Australian Open. The venue, since 1905, has kangaroo-hopped on five different cities—Melbourne (where it is today), Sydney, Adelaide, Brisbane, Perth—and was even held in New Zealand in 1906 and 1912.

Today, it’s on Melbourne Park. It owns the rare accolade as the only grand slam venue to house two courts—the Rod Laver and Vodafone arenas—with movable rooftops that close during rain or extreme heat. (By 2009, though, expect Wimbledon to have its own retractable roof on Centre Court.)

Australia, as a country, is a mighty blue shark in the ocean called sports. Swimming. Cricket. Soccer. Rugby. Track and Field. At the Olympics. At world meets. Without fail, there’s a good chance atop the winners’ “A” list is Australia.

Tennis, of course, included.

You see, through the decades, Australians have developed some of the best-ever tennis stars: Ken Rosewall, Roy Emerson, John Newcombe, Fred Stolle, Margaret Court; and, the past decade, Pat Rafter, The Woodies doubles team, Pat Cash and the in-your-face, “C’MON!!!” warrior whom everyone loves to hate, Lleyton Hewitt.

The most famous “mate” of them all?

Rod Laver. He is the only player (male or female) in history to have won the calendar grand slam twice, in 1962 and 1969. No wonder the Australian Open center court is named after him. And, if you recall 12 months ago, no wonder Roger Federer cried when he received the champion’s trophy from Laver’s hands. He was honored by the presence of The Rocket.

SURFACE.     The Australian Open surface? Hard-courts. Wimbledon is on green grass (the fastest surface because the ball skids), the French Open is on brown clay (the slowest surface), while the Oz Open’s hard-courts are considered the “most fair” of all surfaces. Unlike clay, where Spaniards Rafael Nadal and Juan Carlos Ferrero dominate because of their heavy-topspin style or, on grass, where Pete Sampras and Boris Becker excelled because of their 140-mph serves, the Open’s hard-courts are neutral. Not too fast. Not too slow.

What I like about the Oz Open?

To us here in Cebu, the live cable TV coverage over Star Sports. From 8 a.m. until mid-afternoon, then from 4:30 to 8 p.m., we see the action as it unwinds in Melbourne.

What’s another?

As the cliche goes: “Only the Strong Survive!” Why? First, the heat. At times, temperatures reach 45 degrees and years back, players fainted. (At least they now have the roof.) Also, the Open is scheduled in early January. This means that to win, you’ve got to forgo of the Christmas holidays. Remember Andre Agassi? He won this event four times. Why so many? Because on Dec. 25, while others ate cheesecake and drank Dom Perignon, he climbed the stairs of sports stadiums. AA won.

ROGER. This ’07, RF will win. Who else can you choose? If you study the history of Open winners, you’ll see a pattern: The winner is the all-around player. RF? He’s the most complete player. Ever. Sampras was close. But Pete owned a weak backhand and never possessed the patience of a baseliner. Unlike the Swiss.

The women’s side? I like Maria. Who’s Maria? Of course you know Maria. She won the last grand slam event, wears a diamond-studded watch with the same brand as Tiger Woods, was rumored to have dated Andy Roddick, is the highest-paid female athlete in the world earning $20 million a season, stands 6-foot-2, owns green eyes, and, best of all, she’s solo.

Singles, anyone?

Categorized as Tennis