7 points on Novak’s 7th straight win over Rafa

(Getty Images)

I hope you watched the ultra-marathon tennis battle last Sunday night. Seven minutes short of six hours, Novak Djokovic won for the seventh consecutive time against Rafael Nadal. “7th time unlucky?” I asked two days ago. What a premonition. What a Gladiator-like battle. Here are seven points….

1) AGGRESSOR WINS. One of my dad Bunny’s favorite lines is this: “Play to win and don’t play not to lose.” True. For most of the match, Rafa was too defensive. He’d stay five meters off the baseline. He counterpunched. His shots landed short, midcourt. Novak would pound on them and run Rafa left to right like his dog from Serbia. To win, Rafa has to stay closer to the baseline and take risks. This is his only option against Novak. In sports—like in business—those who take risks, win. The bigger the risk, the larger the reward. Novak is the master risk-taker.

2) TRIVALRY. I’m talking about Novak-Rafa-Roger. Here are interesting stats: Between Rafa and Roger, it’s the Spaniard who dominates. Their record is 18-9 (8-2 in majors). It’s lopsided. But, between Rafa and Novak, it’s the opposite. Excluding their earlier contests, it’s been 7-0 since last year. So, Roger loses to Rafa who loses to Novak. (We’ll include Murray in the picture once Lendl aids him in winning a GS title.) Why does Rafa dominate Roger while being dominated by Novak? Here’s why: Roger’s single-handed backhand is his weakness. Rafa pounds on that side. But against Novak? His two-fisted backhand is, like Agassi’s, the best. Novak drills it crosscourt; he smothers it down-the-line. Novak’s forehand is even deadlier. Either wing, Rafa suffers.

3) EMOTIONS. This is what makes tennis so enjoyable to watch. It’s one on one. Unlike football or basketball when the focus is on 10 or 22 players, with tennis, it’s just two. And what facial expressions they display. Rafa winces. Rafa pumps his fists seven times after winning Set 4. Novak falls to the ground. Novak’s eyes turn smaller, a sure sign of extreme fatigue. Their personalities and feelings are in full display. No other sport shows mannerisms (“kuot sa lubot”) and expressions (Novak’s sign of the cross) like tennis.

4) MENTAL. Sport is physical yet it’s won by the mind. The toughest of all competitors, Nadal, was en route to winning his 11th Grand Slam title. He led 4-2 in the fifth set and had an easy backhand down-the-line. He missed. He missed the chance the avenge Novak. What guts the Serbian has. He limped. He collapsed. His knees wobbled. A jab by Jun Intor would have KO’ed him. But, no. Djokovic’s mind would not allow his body to collapse. What courage. To defeat Nadal mentally is Novak’s greatest strength.

5) MEN’S RIGHTS. We’ve all heard of Women’s Rights. I’m making up a new term. You see, the prize money of the champions of both sexes are the same. The winner each gets 2.3 million Australian dollars. In pesos, that’s P105,000,000. But here’s the interesting part. While the men’s final took 5 hours and 53 minutes, the women only took 82 minutes. This means that Novak was paid P297,450 per minute while Azarenka was paid a whopping P1.28 million per minute on court!

6) DAVIS CUP. Remember our two Davis Cup hostings last year at Lapu-Lapu City? In the first one last March 2011, it was the Phils. vs. Japan. The head of the ITF delegation who arrived to preside over the ‘Battle of Mactan?’ His name is Wayne McEwen. Well, this guy is Graeme Mackinnon’s country-mate and he was one of the top officials running the Australian Open. It was Councilor Harry Radaza, in a text message last Sunday, who informed me that McEwen was in center-stage. True enough, in the Awarding Ceremony, McEwen stood alongside Nadal/Djokovic. Nice guy, this Wayne, when we spent some time with him here in Cebu.

7) HIGH-DEFINITION. I’m talking about cable TV. I watched from the room of Charlie, my brother, and he subscribed to SkyCable’s HD channels. What a sight! On Channel 136 (ESPN HD), it’s as if you’re right there in the Rod Laver Arena.

Rafa vs. Novak: 7th time unlucky?

The Swiss lost to the Spaniard who’ll face the Serb who defeated the Scot. Confusing? That’s the “4S” (iPhone 4S, if you were to ask my daughter Jana) who comprised the men’s semifinalists of the Australian Open.

The Spaniard, Rafael Nadal, bested his lifelong nemesis, the Swiss maestro, Roger Federer. In tonight’s final, he’ll face the Serb, Novak Djokovic. Those three form a “Trivalry.” The man Novak defeated in the semis? The Scot, Andy Murray, who almost won the nearly-five-hour-long contest last Friday.

What happened to R & R? Rafa mentally beats Roger. The analysis is as simple as that. It’s like a Pacquiao facing a Mexican; an Anderson Silva encounter; a Tiger Woods leading on Sunday. Deep down inside, these guys know they’ll win.

It’s the same with Rafa. When he meets eyeball to eyeball with Roger, his confidence level is immeasurable. I’m reading his autobiography, “Rafa,” and—like the book as on TV—there are few athletes EVER who are as dogged and relentless and tenacious as Rafa. The only chance Roger has? When it’s a best-of-three match. In a prolonged five sets setting, Nadal will break you down.

Murray v. Djokovic? That wasn’t tennis; it was an ultramarathon. Sayang. I had wished for Andy to win his first Grand Slam title this month. Instead, he’s become a perennial groomsman. Always at the altar of victory, only to watch the other claim the trophy/bride.

The world No.1? Steve Tignor, one of my favorite writers, said in the other day’s “Some Pain, Some Gain,” column:

“As for Murray’s opponent, can we start calling Novak Djokovic the Benjamin Button of tennis? He starts matches as if he’s just finished playing five hard sets. He breathes deeply on the first changeover. He shuffles off court in the middle of the second set and sits down in an open-mouthed daze, as if he might not be able to answer the bell. Come the three-hour mark, though, the man suddenly has some spring in his step—he’s rounding into shape. After four hours, he’s sliding and grunting at full stretch, flipping up a perfect defensive lob, and then tearing toward the net to smack a forehand winner to break serve. He might as well be starting the match right then and there.”

He reminds me of Lance Armstrong. While climbing the torturous Pyrenees or Alps during the Tour de France, the American would often look depleted. But, it was just “acting.” When overconfidence would creep in, he’d unleash a pedal of fury that would spray dust on the face of Jan Ullrich.

In describing the Novak-Andy epic, Jon Wertheim of SI.com explains: “This was less a tennis match than an endurance contest on opposite sides of a net, two supremely fit athletes depleting their reserves of energy — and then somehow surging and re-surging. Like Mr. T. in Rocky III, before the match, Murray’s coach, Ivan Lendl, offered a one-word prediction for the evening: pain. He got that right. After so many 40-ball rallies, so much scrambling and bending and locomoting, both players became the embodiments of attrition.”

The question is: Can Novak recover, with one day’s rest compared to 48 hours for Rafa, to be 100 percent ready for today’s grand finale?

“I will try to get as much sleep and recovery program underway and hope for the best,” said Djokovic. “I think that’s going to be crucial for me to recover and to be able to perform my best, because Rafa is fit. He’s been playing well. He had an extra day. He definitely wants to win this title.”

True. Not only does Rafa want his 11th major title—he wants to defeat the man who embarrassed him six times last year. Rafa lost to Novak six times in 2011—all in finals; twice on Rafa’s “I’m-supposed-to-be-unbeatable” surface of clay; once in Wimbledon and another at the US Open.

We know who the crowd will cheer for tonight. RAFA! chants will reverberate around Melbourne. Nothing against the equally-nice-guy Novak, but Rafa’s just a super humble and likeable fellow. Plus, that unyielding and Spanish-bullheaded perseverance.

Watch the Australian Open final this 4:30 P.M. on Star Sports/ESPN.

CERC Party

Our group, the Cebu Executive Runners Club (CERC), held a victory and thanksgiving party two nights ago at my house. After the success and hard-work behind the Cebu City Marathon, which CERC organized, it was time to relax. We started with a Holy Mass officiated by Rev. Fr. Renel Cabag of the OAD. Then, it was the all-out eating of lechon, kare-kare, dinuguan… (yes, we marathoners, given the mileage on the road, gorge and eat buffet-style).

Among the CERC members who attended the celebration were Roy Trani (CERC president), Jesse Taborada (past president), and Jacs and Perl Jacalan (the ASAP couple staying on until 1 A.M. when Perl celebrated her birthday at the strike of midnight).

Also at the party were Jun Remo, Joel Juarez, 3:43-marathoner Steve Ferraren (our group’s best dancer), Steve de la Cerna, Barry Marquez, Arnold Palma, Rudy Tindugan, Dr. Albert Santos, Dr. Ian Barlaan, Ted Tecson, Jon Consunji, Kenneth and Dr. Tata Casquejo; my SunStar boss, Michelle So; XTERRA champ-to-be Dodong Sulatre; Roel Militar; 4:09 marathoner Nica Ong and Ironman women Annie Neric and Jane-Jane Ong.

After dinner, it was time to turn sentimental. One of our most prized members, Bro. Carlo Bacalla, is leaving Cebu. A member of the Don Bosco congregration, Bro. Carlo will relocate next month to Laos. Yes, the communist republic Laos. (But true to running form, before agreeing, Bro. Carlo reviewed his future neighborhood and found out that there was a beautiful track oval just a few kilometers away. Yes! he said, after discovering the oval.)

Two nights ago, while “Chariots of Fire” played in the background, we viewed pictures of Bro. Carlo joining the 102-K and 160-K ultramarathons. Yes, 102K and 160K! In fact, today, he is leaving for Manila (together with Atty. Haide Acuña) to join this Saturday’s Bataan Death March 160-km. run from Mariveles, Bataan to Tarlac.

We wish Bro. Carlo and Haide good luck for the sure-to-be-agonizing 160K… and Bon Voyage to Bro. Carlo who’ll convert Laos into a running democracy.

Fantastic Four clash at the Australian Open

The last time Mr. Federer met Mr. Nadal in Melbourne was in 2009. “God, it’s killing me,” Federer said after losing 9-7 in the fifth set Final, tears of pain rolling down his chiseled cheeks.

Tonight, R & R square off again. Few rivalries, of any game or form of entertainment, have rivaled the one between the Spaniard and the Swiss. Tonight, I think Roger will win. Much as the record speaks otherwise (it’s 17-9, in favor of Nadal), the Federer Express has been in full-throttle, steamrolling past del Potro (4, 3 and 2) and everybody else who faces him across the Australian net.

The Melbourne courts are fast, speedier than the red-clay favored by Nadal. This quick-bounce court will be an ace for Roger’s 133-mph pinpoint serves.

But this is the intriguing part of the R & R combat. Mentally, it seems as if Rafa owns Roger. Rafa’s forehand to Roger’s backhand—that’s one of the worst one-two punches that overwhelms Roger. Also, if Roger loses, that means Rafa has won twice as many matches, head-to-head (18 vs. 9). How can RF lay claim to the “I’m The Greatest” sovereignty title when Rafa clobbers him?

Still, that’s all history. Tonight will be historic. Roger in 4.

But, wait. Lest we think that tonight’s the finale, it’s only half of it. The main Gladiator-like ending is still this Sunday. Looming at the opposite end?

Djokovic or Murray. Among these Fantastic Four characters, Roger has won 16 majors, Rafa owns 10 and Novak has four, including three from 2011. Andy The Scot? He has none. Luoya sad uy. That’s why I’m cheering for him. (He beat Japanese No. 1 Kei Nishikori, who was supposed to come to Cebu in last year’s Davis Cup tie.) And, though a boring and lifeless counterpuncher, I hope by week’s end Murray will dye his hair red and wear a tattoo, “The 2012 Wizard of Oz.”

Among the women, who doesn’t like Maria Sharapova? I know Michael Jerome Limpag LOVES her. Here’s looking ahead to a Kim Clijsters vs. Maria final on Saturday.

Milan, in Cebu, stars in Mexico vs. Philippines

Michael Pastrano Aldeguer and Bob Arum recently met. One of the top prospects that the chieftains of ALA Promotions and Top Rank discussed?

El Metodico. “The Method Man,” known for his precise, well-designed and deliberate punches, his name is Milan Melindo. Aldeguer explained: “Bruce Trampler, the International Hall of Fame Top Rank match maker who has worked with Muhammad Ali, Oscar De La Hoya, Floyd Mayweather, Sugar Ray Leonard and the great Manny Pacquiao, is keen on having Milan in their shows abroad.”

This is outstanding news. Are we anticipating, possibly in Pacquiao’s next Las Vegas encounter this May or June, an ALA boxer to be featured in the undercard? We hope so. Because… sayang. In nearly all of MP’s mega-fights, with tens of millions of eyeballs watching, no prominent Pinoy was featured in the undercard. With this ALA-Top Rank initiative, we might see a change.

Back to Milan Melindo, he’s one of the top guns being groomed. “That just says it all for Milan despite the fact that he has never even fought in the US,” said Michael Aldeguer. “Pinoy Pride, who has achieved double-figure national television ratings, has helped Filipino fighters get global recognition through these events.”

But, before thinking of Las Vegas, it’s Waterfront Cebu City Hotel and Casino this Saturday, January 28. It’s the 11th edition of Pinoy Pride and Melindo is fighting another Mexican, Juan Esquar, in the 112-lb. Flyweight Division.

Why this heated Philippines-Mexico rivalry? I asked Aldeguer. “The Philippines-Mexico rivalry started when Manny, one by one, beat Mexico’s living legends in Marco Antonio Barrera, Eric Morales and Juan Manuel Marquez. What he has done opened doors not only for Filipino boxers abroad but highlighted the rivalry of our nations in boxing. Manny’s achievements showed the world that Filipinos are at par with the best in the world giving inspiration to the young boxer’s dream that you can achieve anything if you work hard.”

(In my further research, Mexico and the Philippines are so similar that, despite our geographical distance, we’re “baby-making nations.” Mexico ranks as the 11th most populous nation on this planet (113 million) while ours is ranked 12th at 94 million.)

With Milan’s opponent, Juan Esquer, is he: A patsy? A whipping boy? A sacrificial boxing lamb ready to be bloodied by the undefeated (in 25 fights) Milan Melindo?

“Juan Esquer has fought the best fighters of his division,” said Aldeguer. “He has fought six world champions: Ivan Calderon, Hernan Marquez, Carlos TamaraGilberto, Keb Baas, Lui Concepcion and Kermin Guardia. He has a 56.76 % KO percentage.”

Impressive. He also has, like boxers in the mold of Mayweather, a loud mouth. “I am a fighter who likes to slug it out and I am going to win by knockout so that they (judges) will not take away the fight from me,” Esquer said. “I am 100% sure of winning my fight against Melindo.”

100 percent sure? What I’m 100 % sure of is this: This Saturday will be a carnage. Jabs, wallops, uppercuts will bombard Lahug.

I asked Michael A. what he likes about Milan M. “He has a high boxing I.Q. He is so focused and is very hard-working. He analyzes the game and he has always have had a cerebral approach to everything. What is great about Milan is his being calculated with his punches and he picks his spots and times his punches well.”

As to the Pinoy Pride Series, Aldeguer adds: “Each Pinoy Pride is unique as boxing shows are always unpredictable and feature different fighters and opponents from different nationalities. Like the last Pinoy Pride Philippines vs Mexico wherein up and coming fighter Jason Pagara lost to Rosbel Montoya of Mexico. Hopefully, Filipinos will come and support Team Philippines against The World in their quest to win the World Trophy and bring pride to the country once again. ALA Promotions is always true to its goal to discover and support Filipino fighters and for them to have a great venue to showcase their skills to the world.”



Chess world record: ‘Proudly Made In Cebu!’

Want to witness history? Today? The Guinness World Record? Visit the Cebu City Sports Center. I did yesterday. What did I see? Thousands of students with their brain cells activated. They pushed the pawns forward. They gobbled up hundreds of rooks. They smiled when the King collapsed. They screamed, “Checkmate!”

Why is chess important? I asked the brains behind this brain-game, Edward Hayco. “Reading a book, for example, instead of watching a movie, affords the child a deeper, more profound and thorough understanding of a certain concept,” said Ed, the chairman of the Cebu City Sports Commission. “In this case, we’re talking about the theories of chess… how the game is played, its rules, how the pieces moves, how you achieve your goals; how to be patient and when to be aggressive… it creates a deeper sense of awareness and creativity in the minds of the kids. It develops their character to be patient, to analyze and strategize aside from just being a game for the intellectual.”

Ed added: “If we plant the seeds right and nurture it well, Cebu may just be the next CHESS MECCA OF THE WORLD!”

Ambitious. Visionary. Sensational. These are the words to describe Mr. Hayco. And, as grandiose as his dreams are, he’s able to fulfill them. Look at Dancesport. Ed promised a “Largest Dance Class In The World.” He delivered in 2009. This weekend, he promises the “Largest Chess Tournament,” easily outnumbering the 1,214 of Russia. He delivers with 43,157 participants. Also, Cebu is the world-record holder in “Most Fireworks Launched in Less Than a Minute” (thanks to Brian Lim of Pyroworks, that’s 125,801 firework rockets).

In the Philippines, Cebu is the “Sports World Record City.”

Yesterday, I watched the Opening Ceremony at 1:30 P.M. A total of 1,500 pairs of students sat across each other with chessboards in between. They filled the entire Abellana grandstand.

A six-year-old Grade 1 student read the Oath. Rening Ylaya, aged 76, joined to face a high-schooler. The highlight? The dance presentation on a giant eight-by-eight grid chessboard. From the left entered the “live” chess pieces dressed in formal, Medieval attire. They were the 16 black pieces. From the right emerged the Sinulog-dressed tribal human pieces. Move after move, dance after dance, they battled on the same stage as last Sunday’s Sinulog. In the end, our own indigenous pieces won. What a show!

(SunStar Cebu)

Ed told me the story of the night high school students. In one public school, only 60 percent attended the classes. But, miraculously, after the chess tournament started, the attendance jumped to 90 percent. Said Ed: “They wanted to attend school so they can play chess!”

Volunteerism is at the heart of this endeavor. “We partnered again with DepEd,” said Ed, “with Dr. Rhea Mar Angtud, Dr. Jimenez, Mrs. Gocotano, Mrs. Veloso. Boogie Lim of Rose Pharmacy with Roger Abella, Felix Poloyapoy, Odi, Louie.. Julie’s Bakeshop, thru their president, Opep Gandionco, Paul Peyreyra, provided our snacks! And IPI, thru its pres., Junpi Castillo, Tito de la Merced, and Dean… the 2,000 chess mats and corresponding pieces and 10 giant training boards. PSC Chair Richie Garcia gave 100t! We had Ricky Ballesteros, Brando, Gayle, April, Bernard Ricablanca… achieved thru the efforts of passionate volunteers. Again, PROUDLY MADE IN CEBU!”

The Cebu Chess Festival ends today. But, in truth, it’s only the start. “The impact may not be felt now,” said Ed, “but when we start discovering Grandmasters years from now, we know they are the fruits of the seeds that were planted today. We were told that there are now many kids seen along school corridors during recess, along the street sidewalks and sari-sari stores playing chess. Many of them playing with their fathers! It’s a nice sight. We feel we have made the kids REDISCOVER THE ART OF CHESS, creating the intellectual warrior in them. We hope we have taught them that it’s more exciting to read a book than to watch a movie… more exciting to play chess than to play a computer game.”

Australian Open notes from Edwin Salazar

When we used to play tennis at the Casino Español prior to his departure for The Land Down Under, the forehand of Engr. Edwin Salazar was most feared. He’d grip the racket upside-down and spin that yellow ball from underneath. He was nicknamed “Cebu’s right-handed Rafa Nadal.”

Edwin is now Australia-based, residing in Gold Coast City. The big news from Oz? The Australian Open, now on its historic 100th year. Edwin and I exchanged emails yesterday; him supplying tons of details. Here are excerpts…

“Sus, John! Had planned to go to the Australian Open but tickets to the last three days leading to the finals were sold out.

“The Australian Open is such a big event. Leading up to the Open, there are one-week tournaments played in the cities of Perth, Sydney, Kooyong (Melbourne) and Brisbane.

“On the first Monday of January was the first day at the Brisbane Open. I watched this tournament. The sports facility is called Pat Rafter Arena—not owned by Rafter but named after him.

“My family also attended the opening of the Pat Rafter Arena about 3-4 years ago. All the great Australian tennis legends were there. This tennis facility was inundated with storm-water last year. The center court was under water by at least 1m. The outside courts, by at least 2.5m. The clean-up and repairs were amazing. There were no signs of flooding when I visited the arena this year.

“The Brisbane Open was won by Andy Murray. Bernard Tomic reached the finals but was defeated by Murray sa semis. The following week, Tomic won the Kooyong Open.

“All top 32 players scatter themselves into the various pre-open tournaments. So the whole January, one can see matches being shown sa free TV or cable. One will also see the sports pages of all newspapers filled with tennis stories.

Mas grabi pa gyud ang local news diri because Sam Stosur and Bernard Tomic are from here. The top ranked male (Tomic) and female (Stosur) Australian players are from Gold Coast City. Both went through public schools and started tennis at a very young age. Both still stay in the Gold Coast when not competing.

“On some occasions I see Tomic and Stosur practice at Queens Park Tennis Club. Would you believe Stosur picks up the balls herself during practice? Here, I’m surprised… walay ball boys even to world-ranked athletes during practice.

“When Stosur won the US Open, the Mayor of Gold Coast organized a big event for her. It was held at Broadwater Parkland, a park which has a stage in an area as big as Abellana.

“Bernard Tomic, ranked 37, is the hot topic. He’s the world’s youngest top 50 player at 19. Coached by his dad, John, they have the same Lydia de Vega-and-Tatang relationship and coaching style. Bernard’s dad is not a professional coach and people keep suggesting that he should get a real pro coach. However, he’s fast rising, having beaten two top ten players in the last seven days.

(William West/AFP/Getty Images)

“On the first day of his Australian Open play, Tomic beat Verdasco in five sets. He also defeated a top 10 rated male tennis player when he won the Kooyong Classic.

“The temperature in the Australian Open is an issue. Pwerti kunung inita. I have not been there but hopefully I will experience that tortuous heat next year.

“Tomic has been recognized as a star in the making since he won the Wimbledon boys title in 2008 at the age of 15. The whole of Australia is cheering behind Tomic with Hewitt as the sentimental favourite. It’s just sad that Sam Stosur lost on her first day.

“I have not been to the Open at Melbourne, but from what I saw during the Brisbane Open, The Australian Open would be huge—I will make this as an item in my bucket list.

“During my visit sa Brisbane Open, the atmosphere was so nice. There was a place for kids to stay and play, an open park with a band playing scattered with tables and surrounded with stalls selling food and coffee.

“By the way, please tell Pareng Jun San Juan that Bernand Tomic plays like him. And Andy Murray plays like you, John.”

Ha-ha. Thanks, mate.

Categorized as Tennis