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.

John Pages

By John Pages

I've been a sports columnist since 1994. First, in The Freeman newspaper under "Tennis Is My Game." Then, starting in 2003, with Sun.Star Cebu under the name "Match Point." Happy reading!

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