Exclusive! Yes, Dr. Yong Larrazabal is running

All three local newspapers have advertised his name and proclaimed his running. Radio broadcasts have trumpeted and shouted his running. Businessmen, public officials, his fellow doctors—everyone has speculated and debated and asked the question: Is the young Ophthalmologist and heir to the Cebu Doctors Hospital throne running?

Is Dr. Potenciano “Yong” Larrazabal III running?

In a series of text messages, talks, and E-mails with him the past two weeks, I have the inside scoop: Yes, he’s running.

For Cebu City Councilor? This May 14? Against Mayor Tommy Osmena? And his 16-person slate? His first-ever foray into politics? At the young age of 33 years old?

“I’ve been asked to run for mayor and councilor by several individuals,” he confessed. “At the moment, the only running I will be doing is the marathon!”

So, there it is. Sorry to disappoint the gossip-mongers, but it’s a different form of running. You see, Dr. Yong Larrazabal is too busy a physician, too busy a father to his seven-year-old daughter Belle and four-year-old son Cian, too busy a husband attending to his beauteous wife Donna Cruz, who’ll give birth to their second son in two months; too busy to run, dribble and shoot for the ballgame named Politics.

But running? The sport where your heart pumps 168 times in 60 seconds and your sweat drips and bounces off the cement road? Yes, that running.

“My sport was always basketball since my elementary days,” he told me. “But I knew because of it’s intense physical demands, it would just be a matter of time when I’d be injured. Being an Eye Surgeon, injury to any of my fingers could spell disaster. So I was looking for an alternative sport that would not involve my arms and hands too much.

“A year and a half ago, Dr. Douglas Del Prado (a good friend and an anesthesiologist), during surgery, invited me to a 10K marathon. I decided to join out of curiosity. I was not worried about training because I had been on the Treadmill 30 minutes a day for the past seven years. I caught the ‘running bug’ since then and have been joining all the races in Cebu.”

Why this sport? “It’s when I’m running that I feel free from the outside world. While running, I reflect on a lot of things. Things I’ve done wrong. My loved ones. My profession. And God. I have never felt better physically since I started running. Ever. My stamina now is terrific. I can work the whole day and never get tired. Lastly, I can eat whatever I want and not gain weight.

“I run an hour a day on the Treadmill four times a week. I run along the running path around my home twice a week and run with the Sight First Running Club members once a week at the Cebu City Sports Center. Cebu Doctors University is building a mini-oval this year in its new campus in Mandaue. I plan to run there, too.”

Though the young doctor prefers long-distance running, he has sprinted his way to collect trophies: 1st place (Doctors Category), the 1st University Run, World Heart Day Run, and Run for Guimaras; 9th place (Men’s Executive), the 1st 10K Asean Summit Run at 47 minutes; and 10th place (Men’s Open), Gawad Kalinga 10K Run at 44 minutes.

A 10K run at 44 minutes? Wow. That’s blistering fast.

Exactly two weeks ago today, Dr. Larrazabal joined a race that would kill a man unprepared. It’s 42.125 kms.—the distance from the Capitol to Carcar. It’s battling a God-given enemy named the heat of the sun. It’s bridges to climb and asphalt roads to conquer and Honda Civics that zoom past you at 89 kph. It’s your legs saying no, lungs saying no, mind saying no… but that muscle underneath the shirt saying yes. It’s the final thesis for the student named Runner.

The Marathon.

After only a year-and-a-half of joining 5K and 10K races, Dr. Yong took his thesis examination last February 25 at the 3rd Philippine International Marathon.

“We took the Saturday 5 pm flight from Cebu,” he said. “Upon arrival we went to the Mall of Asia to look for an Italian Restaurant. We found Italianni’s after 30 minutes of walking and feasted on pizza and pasta. Our racing coordinator handed out laxatives to each of us. All of us had a hard time sleeping because of the excitement (max two hours of sleep).

“We had to get up at 3 a.m. to get ready for the starting time at 4:30 a.m. There were nearly 1,000 runners for the marathon. There were a lot of VIPs in the race—thus the presence of policemen, traffic enforcers and even the SWAT. There were water stations (two per kilometer). It was very well-organized. We were even given a map and a survival handbook prior to the race. There were bicycle escorts for a fee. The support team of some runners was unbelievable.

“Imagine, one VIP runner was tailed by two SUVs. When he was tired, the trunk of one SUV would open and you could see food, Gatorade, mineral water, energy drinks. Two men from the other SUV would come out and massage each of his legs…”

Categorized as Running

For Z, more Zzzz’s before The Dream

The last time I saw Manny Pacquiao at the Cebu City Sports Center, it was one year ago—February 24, 2006—during the Cebu City Charter Day celebration. Manny was greeted by thousands who overflowed the grandstand bleachers to clap and cheer and wave at our RP hero. Manny sang his sentimental song, “Laban Ko ‘To.” He braved the crowds swarmed with Pacman fanatics. During the formal introductions emceed by Councilor Jack Jakosalem, he upstaged our land’s two highest leaders—President GMA and Cardinal Vidal—with a standing ovation.

This was then.

Last Saturday—exactly 12 months later—at 8:15 in the evening, Manny Pacquiao once more entered our Sports Center. Clad in a pink-striped, short-sleeves polo shirt, he wore a shining pair of black leather shoes and an even shinier Rolex watch studded with gold and diamonds. Pacquiao entered the right side of the complex and when the tens of thousands spotted the man, they zoomed on him like a spotlight. People rose. Eyes enlarged. Mouths opened. The speakers blared. But, guess what—something unbelievable and shocking happened next…

Manny Pacquiao was booed!

No kidding. The reigning world champion. The Superman who put Erik Morales to sleep in Las Vegas. RP’s greatest-ever boxer—and yes, that includes Flash Elorde and Pancho Villa.

Manny Pacquiao was booed!

Embarrassing? Nah. Shameful? Nah. Demeaning? Nah. It was much more than that. It was a lesson. A warning. A message. A signal to Mr. Pacquiao that he ought to stick with the first name “Mister” and not change it to “Congressman.”

Seconds after Pacquiao was jeered, thousands screamed in unison, “CONGRESSMAN! CONGRESSMAN!”

And then another round of boos…

Boo, Manny!

You know what? I hope Pacquiao hears more boos. I hope he listens. I hope he hears the message clear and loud, “Back to the gym, not the political ring!”

“Moment of Truth” was, to say the least, a huge, huge success. I’ve been to dozens of events at the Sports Center but I’ve never seen the grandstand as jam-packed as three nights ago.

Cebuanos love boxing. We know that. From Cebu Coliseum to the Waterfront Lahug ballroom to the Mandaue Coliseum to the Gaisano Country Mall parking lot—Cebuanos always paid money, lined up, and watched. But last Saturday was different. It was HUGE. From the boxing ring that loomed at the center with a giant tent—it was Cebu’s first world boxing championship in 10 years—the last time was in Mactan back in 1997 when Gerry Penalosa defended his crown.

The “Moment of Truth” was a moment of success. Even the seats marked P5,000 and P2,000—very expensive tickets based on how “tihik” Cebuanos are—were packed.

To ALA himself, Antonio L. Aldeguer; to his partner and the event promoter, Sammy Gello-ani; to ALA’s heir apparent and boxing’s newest manager, Michael Aldeguer; to Golden Boy Promotions and ABS-CBN—you’ve done Cebu proud.

Z Gorres? Wow. He gave it everything. He punched. He jabbed. He absorbed punches thrown by Fernando Montiel that would have wobbled a lesser being. Behind every “GORRES! GORRES! GORRES!” chant of the thousands from the bleachers, Z Gorres fought. He never backed away. He had Montiel on the ropes, he had Montiel’s left eye bleeding and swollen, he had Montiel’s mouth open and his teeth guard hanging on the 12th round.

He had Montiel him. Almost.

Two points. Those two point deductions he received were painful. Was the referee correct on those? Why wasn’t Z given enough warnings? Did those deductions dampen Z and make a difference at the later rounds?

We don’t know. What we know is this: Z’s time as world champion will soon arrive. But for now, Z’s dream will have to wait. And sleep.

Boom-Boom Bautista? Wow. Wow. Wow. Before the first round bell rang, everybody knew the Boholano would win. It was never a question of “If” but “What round.”

Not only was Boom-Boom in excellent shape, but his opponent was the opposite. From where I sat about 30 feet from the ring, Marino Gonzales never owned the required “six-pack” abs of a boxer. In our words, “naa siya’y bil-bil.” No kidding. You could see fat smiling naked above his shorts. And wasn’t it the first time he’s ever stepped outside Mexico? And didn’t he arrive the day before the fight?

But back to Boom-Boom, I’ve seen him fight in person twice before and, I must say, there’s something different about the Boom-Boom I saw at 10:30 last Saturday night.

Swagger. Yes. He’s got it. That inside-the-chest, Sorry, no chance-you-can-beat-me attitude that resides deep inside every title-holder. In Boom-Boom, you can see it in his eyes. You can see it in the way he prances around the stage. You can see it with our own bare eyes and say, “Future world champion.”

Categorized as Boxing

In this bad news world, it’s good to do good

Past 1 p.m. last Thursday, four good people landed at the Mactan-Cebu International Airport. They wore T-shirts and shorts, carried 11 oversize bags loaded with yellow Penn balls, and they each hand-carried a special gift for us: their big, warm smiles.

Elmer Dolera, Ted Sayrahder, Kevin Young, and Joy Riley are good. They’re so good that they flew thousands of miles from their homeland—the United States—to be with us. Here on vacation? On a business venture? Arrived to invade the dark, smoke-infested bars in search of topless girls? No. They’re good, remember?

These four good visitors landed in Cebu for a different swing: To teach tennis. Yes. Tennis. In the U.S., they’re what you call “tennis pros.” And they’re not just ordinary pros—they’re some of the best from the West to the East Coast.

Did they arrive to get paid green bucks? Thousands of dollars deposited in their bank accounts for this trip? No. They’re good, remember?

They came to Cebu on their own, without pay, leaving behind their spouses and children, losing hundreds of dollars of income during their several weeks-long stay here—to teach tennis, to share their expertise, to do good.

Isn’t that good? Yes, very good. No wonder they’re called the “Goodwill Tennis Tours.” Their objective is to promote friendship and closer ties between the U.S. and our country through tennis.

Elmer Dolera started it all back in 1999. A Filipino-American born and raised in California but whose parents originated from Tubigon, Bohol, Elmer had visited Cebu thrice before ’99 and, each time he arrived, longed for a project to help his native land.

Why not tennis? he asked. Why not import a top U.S. coach for a few weeks, find some local trainers, and mix them? Why not do good?

So Elmer contacted Ted Sayrahder, a USPTA P1 and USA High Performance Coach—one of the top in the whole of America—they flew together and, since 1999, have been back and forth several times and visited places like Boracay, Palawan, Bohol, and Iloilo.

Fast forward to last Thursday. The coaches arrived in Cebu after conducting workshops in Gingoog City, Butuan, Camuguin Island, Malaybalay, and Davao. But this time, instead of just Elmer and Ted, they invaded Cebu with two more top pros, Joy Riley and Kevin Young.

Kevin Young? Man, he’s good. He’s a good man. And, he’s a very, very good tennis coach. Back in Washington State, he runs a huge 12-court facility in Vancouver with hundreds of children and adult netters. His official title? Master RCW (Recreational Coaches Workshop) National Trainer—one of only six in the whole United States!

Good? Nah. Very, very good.

Joy Riley is a beauty. She stands over 5-foot-10 with long, flowing blonde hair and the body of a Steffi Graf. A varsity swimmer in college, she has since shifted to tennis and is an RCW National Trainer and PTR Pro.

What did the Goodwill Tennis Tours do? From Friday to Sunday last week, each morning from 8:30 to 11:30 they taught Cebu’s top coaches. Nearly 60 locals showed up wearing tennis shorts and tennis shoes and tennis rackets. They trooped to the Casino Espanol and joined the Recreational Coaches Workshop. On court, they danced, sprinted for bouncing balls, smacked forehands. They listened, laughed, learned.

In the afternoons, it was all-children. Twenty of Cebu’s best juniors participated—including names you read each week on this space: Sally Mae Siso (who, this year, is the youngest Cebu City Charter Day awardee), her brother Nino Siso, No.1 junior star Jacob Lagman, and 16-year-old champ Francis Largo. For over two hours each afternoon, they joined the Elite Juniors Program. They sprinted for drop shots, smashed lobs, and sweated enough sweat to transform the tennis court into a swimming pool.

I spent hours watching. What single lesson, in my opinion, did I learn most? Three letters: FUN.

Those three letters are the most important letters in the sports alphabet. Think about it. In golf, for example, what use is teaching a child the proper grip if she’s not having fun? In basketball, what use is teaching the behind-the-back dribble is he’s not smiling?

Fun, Fun, Fun. Coaches, remember that.

Back to Joy, Kevin, Ted and Elmer: these are good guys. Really good guys. They’re passionate. They laugh on court and dance with the children and jump for joy. They’re in love with tennis, with life, and, from what I’ve heard them say, with Cebu.

To you guys: Thank you… Salamat!

Categorized as Tennis

Be the world champ, not a chump

Manny Pacquiao is joining politics. Can you believe that? He said so himself: “It’s no longer a question of ‘If,’” he was quoted as saying, “it’s a question of ‘What position.’” Can you believe that?

I can’t. As much as I try to decipher what’s ticking inside Manny’s brain, I can’t understand it. I mean, why would a very young man, in a decent profession making decent money, run for a position salivated at by old men? Is it because, as some say, “Time’s running out?” Time’s not running out. Manny’s only 29 years old! That’s young. Too young, in fact, for public office. Why be in such a hurry?

The worse thing is, as we all know, running for politics and running for boxing isn’t the same running. They clash. Like Rum and Milo, they don’t mix. One running forces you to smile, the other forces you to cry. And here’s the truth: If you run for politics, you can’t run on the road. You can’t focus. You’ll spend all your time shaking people’s hands, delivering speeches, creating TV commercials, plugging yourself on radio ads. You’ll spend hours and days and weeks and months running for politics. Not running on the road. Not jabbing at those mitts. Not working on upper-cuts. Not pummeling the bags. Not boxing.

And isn’t Manny a boxer?

To start with, what qualifies him to run for office? His school background? Ha-ha. His oratorical skills? He-he. His decades in public service? Ho-ho.

His name. Oh, yeah, his name! How can I forget his name. That’s what qualifies Manny to be a mayor. His name. Well, here’s my advice. Since he’s got such a powerful name (some same stronger than the letters GMA), then why doesn’t he just run for the highest position vacant on May 14…

Senator Emmanuel Dapigran Pacquaio. Doesn’t it sound good? And fitting? Doesn’t it befit a world-champion? If I were Manny, becoming mayor of GenSan, the tuna capital of this part of the earth, why, that’s small fish. Go for the whale. The Great White Whale position. Run for senator!

Running for senator entails cash, lots of cash. Money. Does money need Manny? Manny need money? No, Manny doesn’t need money. He’s got many. With Danding Cojuangco and San Miguel Beer filling his barrel, with Motolite behind his behind, with Burlington on his feet—how can Manny lose?

Senator Emmanuel Dapigran Pacquaio. I like it.

But back to running for GenSan mayor, which Manny appears to aspire for. You know what he’s doing? He’s doing the same thing to the Pedro Acharon, the incumbent GenSan mayor, that he did to Oscar de la Hoya. Remember the Golden Boy?

Here’s what Manny did: Months back, he sat down with Oscar over a steak dinner, listened to him, nodded his head, they shook hands, he signed the contract, and promised to be Golden Boy’s “Golden Boy.” Then—only weeks after—Manny punched Oscar. (Good thing it wasn’t, literally, a punch or else Manny would have been KO’d.)

Back to Mayor Acharon, if Manny runs against him, he’s doing the same thing. You see, Manny was like the mayor’s adopted son. He was the sponsor during his wedding to Jinkee. He sat at ringside in Las Vegas—upon Manny’s personal invitation, of course—to cheer. He was at the blessing of his mansion and at the baptism of his daughter.

And then Manny punches the mayor by running against him? Ouch! Is that how Manny is now? Just because he’s world champ?

Bad, bad decision. And hasn’t our hero been making bad decision after bad decision lately? Signing with Bob Arum instead of Oscar? Bad decision. He knows it. We know it. Had he signed with Oscar, he’d be fighting at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas against Marco Antonio Barrero. But because he signed with Arum, Manny’s fighting we-don’t-know-who on we-don’t-know-when at we-don’t-know-where.

Macau? Is that where he’s fighting? There’s no ready coliseum there. Only slot machines. Texas? Is that the new venue? Ha-ha-ha. Will George W. Bush be at attendance? The last time I heard of a fight in Texas, it was ‘em cowboys.

Here’s my point: I love Manny. You love Manny. Every single being on this planet with Filipino blood circulating in his system loves Manny. Is he going to throw it all away because he wants to shift careers and join the dirty, pollution-infested politics?

Manny, please: Forget politics. Forget it. No one’s stopping you from jumping into that foray—but do it later. Not now. Not when you ought to be inside the gym and not on the podium, not when we need a hero and not a thief, not when you’re, lest you forget, the world boxing champion.

Roger vs. Tiger: Is one better than the other?

Macky Michael plays golf. He started when he was eight years old at the Cebu Country Club. On his very first tournament, at 10 years of age, he won it! That was back in 1982.

Fast forward to six months ago, an uncle of mine from Laguna arrived and I invited Macky to join us for 18 holes. His score that afternoon? A gross 71. Even par. Wow. Today, he owns an 8-handicap that would be much lower if he played more than once a week. He’s Class-A in golf.

Macky Michael plays tennis. Like golf, he started at eight years of age. Same place, the Country Club. Now, he owns a Western-grip forehand that propels the ball forward. He can slice or topspin that backhand cross-court and his serve resembles that of John McEnroe’s. He’s Class-A at tennis.

And so I asked Macky, a close friend whom I’ve played singles tennis with the past 15 years, and one of the rare few in Cebu today who play golf and tennis each week—and who’s Class-A at both—the question, “Who’s better? Tiger or Roger?”

Just by their first names, you know them.

“Tiger Woods,” says Macky, “is no doubt the greatest-ever golfer. Jack Nicklaus may have more majors (he has 18), but it’s only a question of time before Tiger wins more than 20.”

“Roger Federer,” adds Macky, “is, to me, the best tennis player ever.” Macky’s previous “best-ever” was Pete Sampras. But in head-to-head combat, Roger has more artillery. His backhand is better, he’s quicker around the court, and has a stronger baseline game.

Golf or tennis? Which is more difficult, I asked Macky.

“With tennis, you have to be very fit. If you’re playing singles and you’re Class-A, you have to be in great shape. Not so in golf. You can be out of shape but still be good in golf. Between the ages of 13 and 21, I stopped playing golf. But when I came back—and that’s eight years of not having hit a ball–it wasn’t hard at all. As long as you have the golf swing, it’s fast. With tennis, if you’re unfit, you can’t play at a high level.”

“What makes golf difficult,” Macky says, “are the obstacles. Lakes. Sand traps. You can drive the ball 300 yards but if it lands on a bad lie, then it’s bad. Tennis is easier because it’s the same court all the time. Although Wimbledon may be on grass and the French Open may be on clay, it’s still the same dimensions, the same court.”

Tiger or Roger?

“Achievement-wise,” he said, “I’d say it’s a tie. Both are the same. What Roger did last year (winning three of four Grand Slam titles and carrying a 92-5 win-loss record) can be matched by what Tiger did back in 2000 when he made the Tiger Slam. In total number of majors, they’re not so far apart. Roger has 10 Grand Slam titles while Tiger has 12.”

But herein lies the difference, said Macky: Tiger will surely win many, many more Grand Slam titles than Roger. Why? Because even if Tiger is older (he’s 31 years old versus 25 for Roger), in golf there is longevity. “Look at Vijay Singh. Two years ago, he was world no.1. He’s 43 years old today. That’s impossible for tennis. With golf, it’s very possible that 10 years from now, Tiger is still winning slams and is the world no.1. With Roger, three years from now he’ll no longer be world no.1. In golf, at 40 years old, you’re still peaking. In tennis, once you’ve reached 30 years old, you’re old. It’s the nature of golf and tennis.”

The physical aspect. The athleticism. That’s what separates tennis from golf, Macky adds. “Charles Barkley once said in an interview with Bob Costas, ‘The last guy in the worst NBA team who just sits on the bench is a far better athlete than Tiger Woods.’ And it’s true. From an athletic standpoint, you can’t compare Tiger to a very athletic Roger. The definition of an athlete is one who has superior physical skills (strength, agility, endurance). Unfortunately, golf doesn’t allow you to showcase your endurance or stamina. On athleticism, Roger definitely beats Tiger. On the physical side of sports, I’d rather compare Roger with Michael Jordan.”

“That’s why,” Macky explains, “as much as I enjoy golf, but purely on the exercise point-of-view, one hour of tennis is better than five hours of golf.”

The Masters or Wimbledon? A golf major or a tennis Grand Slam title? Which is harder to win?

“A golf major,” says Macky. “With tennis, you win seven matches to win a Grand Slam title. In golf, you have to shoot the best score for the whole event for four days! Against everybody else! That’s much tougher. Also, in tennis, you can play bad, for example, in one match but still barely escape with a five-set victory. The good thing is, you’re still in contention. Your previous day score gets erased. Not in golf. At the pro level, you can’t have a bad day. Tiger rarely has a bad day. If one shoots 8-over for the day, you can’t erase that score. It’s added up. Not like tennis.”

Conclusion? The winner?

Why don’t we just let them play chess.

Categorized as Tennis

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.

*    *    *

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.

*    *    *

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.

*    *    *

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!

*    *    *

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.

*    *    *

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.

*    *    *

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.

*    *    *

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.

*    *    *

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