MY SECOND TRIP TO IPTL WAS UNCERTAIN
I haven’t recovered from all the expenses I spent last year when CNN revealed Rafael Nadal is confirmed to play in Manila. That’s around April 2015.
“Are you kidding me?,” I said to myself. Rafa needed no introduction. He’s the King of Clay and was one of the very first players I saw in TV. I saw him won French Open the day after Ana Ivanovic raised the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen.
I made up my mind. I took calculated risks and decided to come up with a new budget plan.
Daddy and I were supposed to buy two upper box tickets. It’s all I could afford for the two of us. Yet, to make things better (less traffic and such), I decided to have the General Admission. This way, we could use the rest of the money for hotel booking near the Mall of Asia Arena.
The plan worked. All booked before our departure and listed below were my Top 10 happy moments (in random order):
Mr. Jun P. Fuentes is the senior manager in operations. We had the chance to meet him as we entered the indoor stadium. He told us we would take the nicest view in the upper box 417.
Then the next day (December 7, 2015), we met him again and he informed us to take the VIP. For a second, there were firecrackers in my mind. I couldn’t believe it. I shook his hand and thanked him happily.
I needed to stand a little to see the whole court but never mind, I saw it before. I memorized it every inch. This was the moment that I was living the time of my life. I was savoring every second before it ends. I reached Nirvana!
I couldn’t feel my face every time I heard them hit the ball with full power. It’s a smashing sound of a clean plate unto a blank wall. I wondered what type of stretching and how many reps they regularly do to rotate their shoulders freely.
Daddy did all the walking for me. He was with the Millennials. Luckily, he had the chance to have Rafa and Ana signed my Manila Mavericks cap. The missing pieces of a gigantic puzzle in me was instantly completed when I held this cap in my hands. Mission accomplished!
Goran Ivanisevic, the retired 2001 Wimbledon Champion, smiled at me. If only there’s such a thing as an invisible camera inside my brain, I would haven taken a snap an frame it.
Team Royals was warming up for the match. I was there looking at their bench when out of the blue, Ivanisevic smiled directly at me. I smiled back but I was pretty sure he has no idea how my stomach was tied in knots. After their match, Goran and Kristina Mladenovic signed my Virtua Tennis.
I saw a total of six matches in three consecutive days. Philippine Mavericks, as led by the current world number 1 Serena Williams, was unbeaten versus UAE Royals (29:18), Warriors (25:21) and Aces (25:24). As I predicted it, Serena won all her singles (6-3 vs Ana Ivanovic, Kurumi Nara and Samatha Stosur) but lost her two mixed doubles with Treat Huey.
Richard Gasquet and Edouard Roger-Vasselin teamed up for the first time in doubles. It’s my first time to see them live. I remembered Gasquet was a two-time semifinalist in Wimbledon and Vasselin was an unexpected French Open Champion in Doubles.
Last year, Coca-Cola handed me two tickets for lower-box. This year, they gave me a ball signed by the King of Clay himself. Unexpectedly, they also handed me freebies such as towel, t-shirt, tumblers, key chain and Powerade. Thank you, Coke!
We’re blessed to have Tony De Los Reyes. He was there to assist our needs such as getting to the right direction while wheeling my wheelchair. He’s an EMT of Philippine Red Cross. Here we were in one photo. As expected, I don’t know how to smile.
Daddy and I were having breakfast when Mr. Chris Portillo approached us in Microtel. He introduced himself then we shook hands.
We briefly talked about IPTL, his role in Rotary Club and he showed me photos with his tennis favorites such as Kristina Mldenovic, Gael Mofils, Goran Ivanisevic and Daniela Hantuchova.
I was kinda jealous upon discovering these photos were taken during the welcome party a day before the 2014 inaugural.
Mr. Portillo gave us his calling card and said to keep in touch.
Abhishek Ponia is the Operation Vice President of IPTL. I felt glad I met him. Basically, he was sitting in the VIP upper row when I told my dad to introduce himself to him. He approached me. I introduced myself, I wasn’t sure if he heard me but he sat beside me and he took pictures of the crowd using his smart phone.
It’s the last day of IPTL in Manila when I met Jason de la Peña. He’s a news reporter in Fox Sports Asia, which is one of my favorite channels in Cable TV. I always watched him hosting the Special Updates for French Open and Wimbledon with Anne Keothavong and Marion Bartoli, respectively.
Lucky 9! Royals vs Slammers was the first scheduled match in Day 3. Ana Ivanovic was up against Karolina Pliskova in the first. There again – I cheered for the Serbian superstar, who couldn’t hold serve. It looked like she had no rhythm to keep the ball in.
I had no idea if she heard me every time I shouted “Ajde (Serbian term for Come on).” Though, here’s the catch. There was this one split second that I noticed she looked straight right at me. It’s quick but it’s real. I swear I wasn’t having hallucinations. There’s a stimuli. I saw it and I was on a Cloud 9.
Surprisingly, Ana held serve at love and broke for a 5-3 lead. Momentum shifted again and Pliskova took the set to a shootout. Ana fearlessly found a way to survive and won (6-5). Did I let her win?
The weather was good all throughout. It’s raining a bit when my dad and I arrived in Manila though it stopped. We left by plane a day after the show (December 9). We arrived in Davao City 40-minutes past lunch time.
Daddy and I headed to the nearest mall to eat lunch and to print the photos after. It’s a long day and I was quite sleepy. Sleepy but happier. Sleepy but more accomplished.
A week after, I was preparing myself to work when Mr. Ponia sent me a message via Facebook. It felt like I was still dreaming while reading his message. He said he left a parcel in City of Dreams (COD) Crown Towers exclusively for me. It’s the hotel where the IPTL Tennis players stayed.
I couldn’t believe it. Ask all the saints in heaven – I wasn’t expecting the message at all. Bringing myself back in reality after a second, I remembered I have a sister in Metro Manila. I immediately requested her to get it for me. I also sent an email to COD Concierge.
Due to rainy weather, it took her a while to get the parcel. When she finally received the parcel and opened it out of curiosity, it was a tennis ball signed by Rafael Nadal. VAMOS!
* * * * *
Here I am. The ball is in my hand at long last. The first moment I saw the ball, I knew it’s something unique because Rafa put his initials under his signature.
I have his autobiography too. Daddy joined the crowd of screaming fans and let him signed it in Day 3. Yet, there’s no initials. Thank you, Mr. Ponia. Expect me to keep this ball for the rest of my life. More and more success to IPTL!