On clay, the No.2 is always No.1

I pity Roger Federer.

He’s Tiger Woods holding a racquet, the Michael Jordan of his game, the Michael Phelps of this dry swimming pool named tennis court, and yet, when it comes down to a boxing fight between the world’s No.1 and No.2 players—he bows down, wobbles, trips, and gets KO’d.

Funny? No. Embarrassing. How can you be declared Numero Uno if you keep on losing to Numero Dos? Think about it: In the last five times they’ve met on clay, Rafael Nadal has dirtied and spat at and thrown dust into the face of Roger Federer.

Yet, if you visit the Basel, Switzerland home of Roger, he has 10 Grand Slam singles trophies that adorn his cabinet. For years, he’s been perched at the summit of tennis’ Mt. Everest. In 2006, he won three major titles and last January, snatched the Australian Open. Inside his Swiss bank account sleeps $30 million in prize money earnings and, for sure, more than double that in endorsements.

But, whenever he faces this 20-year-old Spaniard, the red color of his Swiss flag turns pink.

The other night, together with two of my closest tennis buddies—Dr. Ronnie Medalle and Macky Michael—I watched the Monte Carlo Open finals.

Was it a contest? Sure it was. It’s called a “No-contest.” Nadal bloodied Federer. He ran him left. He ran him right. He feathered a drop shot that died as the ball crossed the net. He hit to Federer’s weaker backhand, hit to Federer’s stronger forehand—it didn’t matter—Nadal hit straight at Federer’s chest. He stabbed him. With Nadal’s high-bouncing topspin, the Swiss was defensive, unsure, shaking his head, shaking the demons. The normally unflappable Federer struck 19 winners and 38 unforced errors. Yes, no misprint there: 19 winners, 38 unforced errors! The man labeled as “The Greatest” was renamed “The Weakest.”

Here’s my observation: I’ve never seen Federer defensive. Not against Andy Roddick or James Blake or Tommy Haas. Roger is Roger because he’s the aggressor. He dictates play. He’ll shoot an ace down the T, rifle a forehand crosscourt, or chip a slice backhand that’s as sharp as a Swiss knife.

But not against Rafa. And not on clay.

You see, this is why I love tennis. The surface changes. Name me a sport where, after this month or that season, they change surfaces. Basketball is always on wooden parquet. Golf, though hopping from Augusta to Dubai to the Scottish links, is on grass. Same with badminton and bowling and billiards.

Not tennis.

In this game, there are a myriad of surfaces: clay, grass, Taraflex, indoor carpet, artificial grass, Har-Tru. And so, this is what makes tennis different—and interesting. On grass (Wimbledon arrives on our cable TV this June), it’s fast! fast! fast! On hard-court at the US Open and the Australian Open, it’s fast and not so fast—or medium-paced. On clay, it’s this….


Why? Because on grass the ball skids and slides while on clay, the ball grips the dirt and hugs it for half-a-second before flying.

And this is where Rafael Nadal was tailor-made by God to succeed. Nadal is quick, hits heavy topspin (that even a 6-foot-1 Roger has to hit above his shoulders), he never gives up a point, can sprint for 26 hours non-stop, is left-handed, and has the fighting spirit of a raging bull from Spain.
Nadal is a Spanish raging bull.

And so, after 67 straight wins on clay dating back to the Stone Age, here’s what’s next for Rafa: He’ll win Hamburg, he’ll win Rome and—against Roger in the finals on June 10—he’ll win the French Open.

And, guess what, he’ll still be No.2.

In Guimaras, no oil spills — only bike wheels!

Two weeks ago, during Easter Sunday, I arose at 5:40 in the morning, showered, slipped on a pair of tight-fit shorts, gobbled up two eggs and five bread slices in 4 minutes, applied Coppertone on my face, looked in the mirror, smiled, carried my black Cratoni helmet and blue Fox gloves, then drove off from the town of Oton.

At 7 a.m., I arrived in Iloilo City.

My first cousin Din-Din Zaldarriaga, several years my senior and whom I considered my older brother growing up, welcomed me with a smile that spanned ear-to-ear.

“Ready na?” he asked.

“Hu-o, a!” I replied.

We hiked a hundred steps and arrived to meet 14 men so colorful they donned jerseys, helmets and shoes with colors that spelled ROY G BIV.

Sixteen men? In colorful costume? At 7 a.m.?

On Easter Sunday?

Were we clowns readied to perform at SM City Iloilo’s program? Were we to enter in an egg-hunting contest? To appear in ABS-CBN and wake all the Ilonggos up by screaming, “HAPPY EASTER DIRA SA INYO TANAN!!!?”

No! Better…


For two years, my cousin Din-Din and I had planned this day. Avid bikers, he roamed the flat streets of Iloilo while I scaled the mountain trails of Cebu. For two years, we waited… until our schedules fit. And what better day than Easter.

Our destination?

Guimaras Island. Wow!

You know Guimaras. Last August, CNN and BBC focused on this island when an oil tanker carrying two million liters of fuel sank. (On the positive side, Guimaras is world-famous for it’s mangoes—reportedly served at two homes you know: Buckingham Palace and the White House.)

We were 16 bikers who boarded the “pump-boat” off the port of Iloilo. How fast was the trip? Very, very fast. In all, 10 minutes. We loaded our MTBs (mountain-bikes), paid P350 to “pakyaw” the boat, then swam off.

As soon as we docked, the wheels turned. Beside me during the trek was my La Salle classmate, Bernie Tongson. We reminisced our Bacolod elementary days while climbing the highway. After 45 minutes, we landed at the center of Jordan (provincial capital of Guimaras), parked our bikes, unfastened our helmets, and strode inside a store ready for the next mission: breakfast.

We were hungry. Salivating. Thirsty. And Judavel’s Eatery is famous among bikers. My cousin Din-Din and I each ordered soup, caldereta (kambing), fish that resembled our kitong, bowls of rice, and a bottle of Lift and Coke. In all, after Din-Din and I had stuffed our stomachs, we spent—would you believe—only P149.

After breakfast, we circled another route with terrains that spelled “up” and “down.” Did I see oil spills? No. It was at the other side of the island. Instead, what I saw was the breathtaking view of Iloilo that glistened off Guimaras.

If there was any negative, it was this: we didn’t ride off-road (and Guimaras has dozens of trails). It was a day to be with family and we all vowed to be home by 11. So on asphalt we rode.

By “we,” I mean Din-Din, Bernie and their friends that included a 69-year-old (yes, 69!) who pedaled smooth and strong. Amazing. Also with us were my three other cousins—Michael, Jason, and Andre—plus one of my favorite uncles (my mom’s older brother), Ondoy Zaldarriaga, all of 59 summers old.

“Next year, please don’t call me ‘senior citizen,’” my uncle tells the group. “I’d rather be called “Señor, citizen!”

We laugh.

You see, this word isn’t spelled in six letters. It’s spelled FUN. It’s a time to bond with cousins, to reminisce with an old classmate, to feel young with your uncle who’s 59 and a lolo who’s 69. It’s fresh air. It’s the colors of the rainbow on your jersey. It’s the view of Iloilo from across the sea. It’s sweat dripping off your chest and your heart pounding 189 beats per 60 seconds—to be rewarded by a bowlful of caldereta. Best of all, on Easter Sunday, it’s not egg-hunting.

It’s biking.

Categorized as Cycling

Don’t laugh! Manny might have the last laugh

If I resided in General Santos City and headed for the poll booth this May 14, I’d write down two words beside the blank space for Congressman: Emmanuel Pacquiao.

Seriously, I would.

A month ago, I lambasted Pacman. Called him “Chump” instead of “Champ.” Asked if the only credentials he carried to Comelec were his lethal left hook and his “This is for the Gods” broken English. Everybody in this archipelago—excluding, of course, his lawyer, wife, and dog—disapproved.

Manny? Congressman?


Well, call me crazy. Call me any word you like because I’m saying this: I’m rooting for Manny this May 14. I’m serious. Last month and last week and even as recent as 10 A.M. last Sunday, I mixed the words “Manny” and “politics” and “stupid” in the same sentence. Not anymore. Not after watching him bleed his eye with a deep cut, then growl like a beast and smother Jorge Solis after that wound; not after watching him angry on that sixth, seventh, and eighth rounds when he unleashed left
hook after uppercut after right hook and floored Solis to oblivion.

Go, Manny!

Think about it. How can you not feel inspired? How can you not root for a man so poor 16 years ago that he peddled on the streets, lived in the slums, and is now so heroic that he’s carrying—alone—the nation’s flag and waving it for the world to smile and say:

Go, Philippines!

Is it because Manny hasn’t finished college (or was it high school? Or elementary?). Because he can’t speak English like Tony Blair? Because his IQ isn’t as high as Darlene Antonino-Custodio’s?

So what! Is all success based on one’s schooling? One’s childhood upbringing? One’s English?

Dili intawon.

I say we give Manny a chance. Why? Because Manny Pacquiao is a unique human being like no other. He’s not a Cesar Montano or a Richard Gomez who score with pogi points.

What do I see inside Pacman?


I’ve never seen a Filipino athlete as determined as Manny. You can see it in the way he “over” trains, in the way he grits his teeth, dives, and punches for that KO. And this determination, I believe, rooted deep underneath that sweatshirt, might—just might—spill over to his province mates if he’s elected. He’ll fight for them. Bloody himself, if needed. That’s who he is.

What else is inside Manny?

He’s pro-poor. Makatao. How can he not be? Once poor, who better to talk to the poor? He suffered what they suffer, lived in a nipa hut as they now live, starved as they now starve, ate what they now eat.

Clout. That’s another. Name me a Filipino with more influence and “star power” than Manny. When he enters a stadium, eyes enlarge, people stand, and cameras click. Simply because he’s Manny Pacquiao. I’m not saying everything Manny wants, Manny gets. But believe me—whether it’s to approach GMA for a new 13.5-km. asphalted road or to call PNP head Gen. Oscar Calderon for more men to safeguard GenSan—my guess is, what Manny wants, Manny gets. His people benefit.

Here’s one more: South Cotabato is not as popular as Cebu or Davao or Cagayan de Oro but, with Manny at the helm—and with mediamen beside him to take pictures, write stories, and film video footages in every step—wow, the limelight will be on South Cotabato.

Finally, here’s why I’ve softened on Manny: I thought politics would ruin his boxing. I thought he’d lose focus, get distracted, lessen his road running and replace it with another running. Did that happen last Sunday? You saw it. I saw it. The answer is no.

So, call me crazy, but you know what, at the end of this all, Manny just might surprise us. Let’s not forget: Nobody believed he’d topple Marco Antonio Barrera in 2003, critics declared he wouldn’t last against Erik Morales, and now, his countrymen berated him when he declared his running for Congress. Well, let’s see…

As for me, just like last Sunday, I would never bet against Manny Pacquiao.

A Manny win will score very Manny votes

AS much as you and I and 91 percent of the Filipino population (in a survey) disapprove of Manny Pacquiao’s running for Congress this May 14, this we have to conclude: When the bell rings and the gloves are clasped and mouth guards are bitten, Pacman is all about one word.


Asked in an interview if the legal tussle against Oscar de la Hoya and his battle inside the not-so-square ring called politics could get in the way of boxing, he replied: “Never. I never let distractions get in the way of my training. My focus has been to train hard and concentrate.”

Thanks, Manny.

Thank you because, had you lost aim and succumbed to the trappings of your green dollar bills, had you shifted from “running on the road” to “running for politics” and slackened off your uppercuts, jabs, and training—we’d have lost a hero.

Let’s admit it: This nation owns just one hero and he’s not Jose Ma. Sison. He’s Pacman. Sure, we’re 90 million-strong in this 6.5-billion world and we have Lea Salonga and Bata Reyes and Tony Meloto and Paeng Nepomuceno to call our own, but, let’s face it, no Filipino compares to Manny. Among many stands only one Manny.

That’s why as we all converge at resto-bars and the SM Cinemas and at home this morning—every single Filipino with eyes who can see, will be watching—there rests a huge burden for our Robin Hood: He has to win. Not a loss. Not a draw. Not even a 12th round outing to be decided by three men is good enough. Pacman has to win. By KO.

Imagine if he loses? All Filipinos scattered around this globe will clasp both hands in despair, we’ll cover our faces, shake our heads, and weep. For weeks, the Philippines will undergo a depression. A severe depression. That’s why I say…

Thanks, Manny.

Thank you for the sweat that dripped off your chest at Gensan, for the kilometers you sprinted uphill in the mountains of Los Angeles, for the punches you absorbed inside the Wild Card Gym.

You see, when Pacman steps inside that square ring, he’s in unbelievable shape. You know why I know this? His weight. It’s 128.75 pounds. Unlike Solis, who weighed 130.5 and 130.125 before finally making the 130-pound limit, Pacquiao is fit. This means that while he arrived late in L.A. (didn’t we all think Manny had too many distractions on his mind), he didn’t gorge on lechon or drink eight bottles of San Mig Light. He was all about one word.


I’m now staring at his picture taken right after the final weigh-in yesterday. His shirt is off and he’s smiling, clenching his fists, posing beside Jorge Solis. Compare their bodies. Solis is taller, bigger, and yes, more handsome—but look at Pacquiao.
Stare at those abs. Gaze at that chest. Marvel at his arms. In bodybuilding lingo, look at the “definition” of his muscles. Wow. They’re well-chiseled, well-cut, so well-defined that I don’t think one percentage of fat resides inside Pacman.

Thanks, Manny.

Thank you for knocking-out Solis in the fourth round. Or is it the sixth? The eighth? 10th? Never mind what round, thanks for teaching this undefeated—yet underrated—Mexican a lesson in how to spell the letters “K.O.” Teach him about history.

Remind him about the name “The Alamo,” and how, back in 1836 during the Alamo Mission one, the Mexicans were annihilated and bloodied.

Annihilate Solis. Bloody him. Twist him like an enchilada. Chew him like a burrito. Crumple him like you would a crispy taco. For Manny, when you do that, you’ll retain the “Filipino Hero” medal, you’ll keep 90 million of your countrymen away from depression, and best of all, next month, you’ll assure yourself of a new championship belt bearing one name.

Congressman Manny Pacquiao.

Inside this Casino, everybody’s a sure winner

Luis Moro III entered the doors of the Casino last week. On the poker tables, he sat and gambled. On the green rectangles with the felt covering, he competed. He hopped from event to event, playing this shot and that stroke, joining as many tables and courts as he could.

In the end, guess who emerged the Casino jackpot winner and took home the P2.75 million prize money?

Louie Moro.

(This being April Fool’s Day, that’s the amount I overheard Louie brought home. Some say he won more…)

The “Casino,” of course, is no Casino Filipino at the Waterfront Lahug. It’s the other, better-because-you-never-lose Casino, the one along V. Ranudo St. and founded some 87 years ago. It’s the Casino Español.

Last month, during the whole March, the club organized a sports campaign called the “Copa de Casino Español” that included hundreds of members and guests joining. There were five Copa events: tennis, badminton, poker, billiards, and golf. The jackpot winner among all who garnered the most points and was named “Sportsman of the Year?”

Louie Moro. He joined badminton and won the deciding mixed doubles game with Gina Juan against their rivals from the Metrosports Badminton Club. Louie also joined last Thursday’s golf event at the Cebu Country Club, scoring 40 points to win the runner-up Class A honors together with teammates Macky Michael, Toby Florendo, and Steve Benitez.

MACKY MICHAEL. Here’s another super-athlete. Class A in golf (his handicap runs between 6 to 9), he’s Class A at tennis. Last Thursday, from 12:30 to 5:30 in the afternoon, Macky walked several kilometers under the summer heat to compete in the Copa golf event. On the front nine, he carded a 37 and on the back nine a 39 for a total gross score of 76. Wow. That’s a top Class A score.

But Macky wasn’t finished. In less than two hours, he switched from golf to tennis shoes, from 5-wood to tennis racket, then drove to the Casino Espanol. Playing with partner Stanley Yap (the young entrepreneur of the iStore at the BTC), he beat Dave Townsend and myself in a thrilling match (8-7… 7-5 in the tiebreak) for the Class A trophy.

Not bad? How about amazing. Runner-up in Class-A team golf, 3rd in golf individual scores, champion in tennis—all in one same afternoon and evening? That’s Macky Michael.

In the other tennis finals, the big winners were Kit Borromeo and Nene Montederamos (Class C champions) who won over Hydee Mesina and Joy Pesons…

Donald Ruiz and Fred Quilala won the Class B title over Jun Jumao-as and Rolly Borres…

To the organizing group, led by Jeffrey Dico, Jun San Juan, and Joe Camaya, congratulations!

BADMINTON. Three nights were all-badminton. Last Monday to Tuesday, players were divided into four teams. The winners? The team lead by Jordan Tanco, with Jourdan Polotan and Co. as members. On Wednesday night, it was the Casino group versus their friends from the Metrosports. The Casino netters included Martin Montenegro, Louie Moro, Gina Juan, Frederick “TT” Tan, Jordan Tanco, Allen Tan, Kenneth Co, and 12-year-old CVIRAA champion, Janel Dihiansan.

The most thrilling moment came when, after five doubles pairings and a dozen sets, it came down to the final set between Louie and Gina Juan against Arman and Noeme. In the end, with Louie sneaking forward to smash the returns and Gina flicking the shuttle cock for pinpoint drop shots, the Casino group won.

AWARDS NIGHT. How about these: Eat-all-you-can Angus beef. The SRO band who danced and screamed live at the front stage. Free wine and umbrellas for all. Intelligent lights that swirled and encircled the ballroom. A giant “Vamos a Jugar!” streamer that hung on the backdrop. Wow!

It was the Awards Night last Friday, the moment to honor the winners. Casino president Cheling Sala welcomed the participants while Nonoy Tirol (the Copa chairperson) thanked all the sponsors. Nonoy Alba, the sports director of Casino, stood tall at the front to hand out the shiny silver-clad trophies that were handed to the champions while Casino general manager Ed Tongco, in his dashing light pink polo barong, beamed a smile and shook hands with everyone.

At the end of the night and the month of March that brimmed with sweat and laughter and high-fives and food, everybody asked, “Does anyone lose at the Casino?”

No, nobody loses at the Casino Español.

Even if, like Louie, you don’t win P2.75 million.

Categorized as Cebu