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.