VAMOS Rafa!

Last year, Rafael Nadal played in Manila for the first time. I was there. Over there. Live. Can you find me?

iptlmla2015_rafael_nadal

This photo is originally posted in 10sballs.com – it’s a tennis website filled with news and stores. Thanks to Google Images! There’s more to it. I was also caught watching Ana Ivanovic, Serena Williams and Philipp Kohlscreiber.

YouTube Screenshot

There’s me, smiling while watching Ana Ivanovic winning a set against Karolina Pliskova.

IPTL2012_SerenaWilliams_DuguotPH

And there’s Serena Williams! She’s the World Number 1 and she’s undefeated in her three singles. All credit to DugOut Philippines.

IPTL2015_PhillipKohlcreiber_YouTube

Lastly, there’s Philipp Kohlschreiber. There’s me too in a yellow polo shirt facing the entrance door. I couldn’t remember why.

Rafa Wins Monte Carlo 2016

At last, Rafael Nadal opens 2016 with an explosive win in Monte Carlo. Before the details, let’s rewind the time a bit.

Rafa-Monte-Carlo-2016

Rafa failed to win a grand slam in 2015. In fact, he only won two titles in clay. The first was in Buenos Aires. It’s a 250-tournament so the draw was easy for the King of Clay.

He defeated four Argentians in straight sets – namely Facundo Arguello (4, 0), Federico Delbonis (1, 1), Carlos Berloq (6, 2) and Juan Monaco (4, 1).

He went to Harmburg (a 500-tournament) after his second-round exit in Wimbledon. There, he faced a more competitive draw. He outlasted Fernando Verdasco (3, 1, 1), Jiri Veseley (4, 6), Pablo Cuevas (3, 2), Andreas Seppi (1, 2) and Fabio Fognini (5, 5).

It’s too early to say but it seems 2016 is a renaissance year for Rafa. He opens the clay season by winning his ninth title in Monte Carlo – his favorite tournament according to his autobiography.

Monte Carlo is a 1000-Master tournament – where he’s seeded five. He received a first round bye but he faced tougher competitors in the succeeding rounds.

Rafa-returnsIn the second round, the bankable rising-star from Great Britain, Aljaz Bedene, scored a total of six games. Dominic Thiem is a new Austrian supernova who won three clay titles in 2015 + 1 this year (as of this writing). But against Rafa, he exited in straight sets.

Stan Wawrinka stopped Rafa from winning his second Australian Open title in 2014. It’s a hardcourt surface but it’s a different story in clay. Rafa allowed him to win five games in the quarterfinals.

Andy Murray and Gael Monfils tested the King in the last final rounds, respectively. It seemed Murray couldn’t repeat his straight-set victory in Madrid. After winning the first set, Rafa fought back and found himself in finals after eight months of waiting and recovering.

The finals took more than two hours. Rafa lost the second set but ended the match on fire. At long last, all his hard work paid off.

Personally, he’s my favorite to win French Open for the 10th time but somehow, less expectation is healthier than making predictions. Rafa will take it one match at a time. VAMOS!

Photo Courtesy of: Rafael Nadal Fans

#IPTL2015: Congratulations Slammers!

Who have thought Singapore Slammers would win the second season of International Premier Tennis League (IPTL)?

Singapore Slammers Won IPTL 2015
Courtesy: IPTL World

No one, probably. I never predicted it. I saw the Slammers vs Aces doubles match the night before the finale and I thought Slammers won by points (27:21) but the defending champion would have their revenge the following day.

I was wrong. The second season of IPTL was unpredictable till the very last piece of the puzzle. Singapore Slammers, as led by Nick Kyrgios in Japan, Manila and India legs began the race as an inferior losing their first match to UAE Royals in Kobe (20:26).

While in Manila, I remembered Slammers was consistently ranked fourth. Philippine Mavericks (pictured below), on the other hand, began strong in home soil. Thanks to Serena Williams for her dominance in women’s singles!

Mavs ranked number one after Day 1. Unfortunately, it didn’t last long. Mavs fell to second place arriving in the third leg, continued to spiral down and ended in fourth place overall (11 matches played, 6 matches won, 253 games won, 48.1% games won percentage).

The Philipine Mavericks IPTL 2015

Slammers began to climb the team ranking when Andy Murray join the team in UAE leg. The 2013 Wimbledon Champion defeated Roger Federer in men’s singles (6-4). Overall, Slammers upset the home favorite by three points (27:24). The next day, Nick Kyrgios closed out the match (27:16) against Aces with a 6-1 confident win over Bernard Tomic.

Before the finale on December 20th, Slammers lost and won a match in home soil (23:27 vs Royals and 27:21 vs Aces). Slammers won 4 of 5 sets against Aces in the final match.

Expect the unexpected, as they say. Carlos Moya opened a 6-4 win over Fabrice Santoro. Belinda Bencic survived a scare from Svetlana Kuznetsova (6-5). Rohan Bopanna and Sania Mirza stayed invincible against Karolina Pliskova and Dustin Brown (6-2).

Stan Wawrinka, the 2015 French Open Champion, saved his team and wasted no time to defeat Bernard Tomic (6-3). Wawrinka partnered with Marcelo Melo to keep the momentum swinging in their favor 6-3 against Bopanna and Ivan Dodig.

5 legs. 5 teams. 5 stadiums. 18 days. 1 Champion: Congratulations Singapore Slammers!

#IPTL2015: The Unfinished Business

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.

Backhand Stroke

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):

Number One

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.

With Mr. Jun Fuentes

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.

Number Two

Due to tight security, these were the closest shots I could get to Rafael Nadal, Ana Ivanovic and Treat Huey. I was too close but not quite enough to meet them. No regrets though. Just saying.

Rafael Nadal in IPTL Manila

I needed to stand a little to see the whole court but never mind, I saw it before. I memorized it every inch. Time was wasted if I focus too much on the negative. This was a happy moment – the moment that I was living the time of my life. I was savoring every second before it ends. Believe me, it feels like I reached Nirvana!

Ana Ivanovic in IPTL Manila

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.

Treat Huey in IPTL Manila

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!

IPTL Manila in Mall of Asia Arena

Number Three

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 quick snap and frame it.

Goran Ivanisevic in IPTL Manila

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 Wii Virtua Tennis 4.

Number Four

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.

Serena Williams in 2015 IPTL Manila

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 due to his glorious one-handed backhand.

Truth is, he’s tagged as the Baby Federer, who became a two-time semifinalist in Wimbledon. Vasselin, however, was an unexpected French Open Champion in Doubles.

They played well, they moved well and they won in Day 1 against Tomas Berdych and Daniel Nestor (6-3). They lost a tight set, however, against Ivan Dodig and Rafael Nadal in Day 3.

Number Five

Last year, Coca-Cola handed me two tickets for lower-box. This year, they gave me a ball signed by the French Open Champion himself.

Unexpectedly, they also handed me freebies such as towel, t-shirt, tumblers, key chain and Powerade. Thank you, Coke!

Coca-Cola in IPTL Manila

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.

Philippine Red Cross in 2015 IPTL Manila

Number Six

Chris Portillo Meets Daniela Hantuchova
Chris Portillo’s iPhone

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.

Number Seven

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.

Vice President of 2015 IPTL

Number Eight

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.

Jason De la Pena

Number Nine

Lucky 9! Royals vs Slammers was the first scheduled match in Day 3. Ana Ivanovic was up against the fast rising-star 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.

Ana Ivanovic survives a scare in IPTL Manila

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 with my two eyes open wide and inside of me, I floated on a Cloud 9.

Surprisingly, Ana held serve at love and broke for a 5-3 lead. Momentum shifted again and Pliskova’s effortless aggressive game took the set to a shootout. Ana fearlessly found a way to survive and won (6-5).

Just curious, did I help her win?

Number Ten

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.

Special Mention

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 immediately knew it’s something unique because Rafa put his RN Initials under his signature.

IPTL gave me a tennis ball signed by Rafael Nadal

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!

#IPTL2015: Bigger, Brighter, Better

MARK YOUR CALENDARS! International Premier Tennis League (IPTL) will return in the Philippines for a bigger, brighter and better three-night extraordinary event.

While Coca-Cola stays as its title sponsor, the Mall of Asia Arena remains to stage the show’s second season in December 6 (Sunday), 7 (Monday) and 8 (Tuesday). Filipino fans will get to see and meet more than 30 stars.

IPTL 2015 Manila Press Conference
Photo Courtesy of: Blogspot

Bigger and Brighter IPTL 2015?

Reason 1:

Yes. There are team reshuffles and new stars in line. Current World Number 1, Serena Williams (a former Slammer), will lead the newly-named Philippine Mavericks.

She’s joined by Richard Gasquest (2015 Wimbledon semi-finalist), Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (2008 Australian Open finalist), Sabine Lisicki (2013 Wimbledon finalist), Treat Huey (4-time Doubles Champion), Milos Raonic (2014 Wimbledon semifinalist), Jarmila Gajdosova (2013 Australian Open Mixed Doubles Champion) and Borna Coric (2013 Junior US Open Champion). Mark Philippoussis (Retired 2003 Wimbledon finalist) will return as the team captain.

Reason 2:

Season 2 will feature five teams, instead of four. Maria Sharapova (a former Maverick) and Kei Nishikori (2014 US Open finalist) will lead Japan Warriors and will attempt to knockout Indian Aces, Singapore Slammers, UAE Royals and Philippine Mavericks in a five-set format.

Other warriors include Kurumi Nara (2014 Rio Open Champion), Leander Paes (2015 Wimbledon Mixed Doubles), Vasek Pospisil (2014 Wimbledon Doubles Champion), Lucas Pouille (ATP Rising Star), Daniela Hantuchova (a former Slammer) and Marat Safin (Retired 2005 Australian Open Champion).

Reason 3:

Hold your breath. Nine-time French Open Champion, Rafael Nadal, will represent Indian Aces for his debut. He’s also confirmed to play in Manila – the second leg of the tournament.

Other confirmed players as published in local news sites are:

  • Ana Ivanovic (2008 French Open Champion),
  • Gael Monfils (2008 French Open semifinalist),
  • Daniela Hantuchova (2008 Australian Open semifinalist),
  • Tomas Berdych (2010 Wimbledon finalist),
  • Nick Kyrgios (2014 Wimbledon quarter-finalist),
  • Kei Nishikori (2014 US Open runner-up),
  • Agnieszka Radwanska (2012 Wimbledon finalist)

Better IPTL 2015?

Reason 1:

Maybe yes. It’s hard to say things will be better unless you’re there in the moment, right?One thing is certain, however. The are no changes in match format. It stays the same.

Like in inaugural, there are two matches that will consist of five ties: men singles, women singles, mixed doubles, men doubles and legend singles. A point is added to a team scoreboard each time he, she or they win a game.

Reason 2:

In 2014, Filipino fans saw four teams of six to seven members in three nights – same names and same faces. They competed against each other and even without Roger Federer, Indian Aces came on top unharmed.

In December, it gets better to see how will the new schedule divide the five teams. Does this mean one team will not participate in Night 1 but will play in Night 2? Will Philippine Mavericks play in three consecutive nights?

Reason 3:

Ticket rates remain the same. General admission costs 3000 Php while the VIP clocks at 49000Php. Rest assured, these rates are still worth the time and money considering it’s a three-day pass. A match will also last for three hours. For more inquiries, go to IPTL World.

UPDATE: October 14

The IPTL organizers finally released the schedule for Japan, Philippines, India, UAE and Singapore legs. Philippine Mavericks will play three times in home soil.

The team will compete against the UAE Royals in Night 1, Japan Warriors in Night 2 and Indian Aces in Night 3.

It’s still hard to predict who will win in each set considering the list of confirmed players for Manila leg remains incomplete.

Perhaps, tennis fans will see a showdown between Serena Williams and Ana Ivanovic should the Serbian represents Royals in singles.

IPTL 2015 Schedule

Richard Gasquet might represent the country for men’s singles and will play against Kei Nishikori in Night 2.

If Jo-Wilfried Tsonga will replace Gasquet in Day 3, the Frenchman will definitely play against the King of Clay and former World Number 1, Rafael Nadal.

UPDATE: November 29

IPTL confirmed the following players will play in Manila leg, which will start in December 6 and will conclude in December 8.

For Philippine Mavericks:

The Mavericks will compete against the Royals on Day 1. Confirmed players to represent UAE Royals are:

  • Ana Ivanovic (2008 French Open Champion)
  • Tomas Berdych (2010 Wimbledon Finalist)
  • Goran Ivanisevic (2001 Wimbledon Champion)
  • Kristina Mladenovic (2014 AO Mixed Doubles Champion)
  • Daniel Nestor (Multiple Grand Slam Doubles Champion)

Japan Warriors will attempt to knockdown the home team on Day 2. The following warriors are in action:

Last year, Indian Aces overpowered Mavericks in home soil. Can Mavs have their revenge?

Mavericks will not compete against Singapore Slammers yet the following players are still expected to come and play.

Who’ll Win IPTL 2015?

Prediction 1:

It’s hard to tell, considering Manila is simply the second leg of the tournament. The team who ranks number one in Kobe, Japan (December 2 to 4) might carry the momentum and will retain the rank after the Manila leg.

Prediction 2:

I expect Mavericks to win all the women’s singles in home soil, if the order of play will look like this (just guessing):

Day 1: Warriors vs. Slammers

Men’s Singles: Kohlschreiber vs. Kyrgios, W: Kyrgios

Women’s Singles: Hantuchova vs. Bencic, W: Hantuchova

Men’s Doubles: Kohlschreiber/Paes vs. Brown/Melo, W: Kohlschreiber/Paes

Mixed Doubles: Paes/Hantuchova vs. Brown/Pliskova, W: Paes/Hantuchova

Legend’s Singles: Safin vs. Moya, W: Safin

Day 1: Mavericks vs. Royals

Men’s Singles: Gasquet vs. Berdych, W: Berdych

Women’s Singles: Williams vs. Ivanovic, W: Williams

Men’s Doubles: Huey/Roger-Vasselin vs. Berdych/Nestor, W: Huey/Roger-Vasselin

Mixed Doubles: Gasquet/Tomljanovic vs. Nestor/Mladenovic, W: Nestor/Mladenovic

Legend’s Singles: Philippoussis vs. Ivanisevic, W: Philippoussis

Day 2: Aces vs. Royals

Men’s Singles: Nadal vs. Berdych, W: Berdych

Women’s Singles: Radwanska vs. Ivanovic, W: Ivanovic

Men’s Doubles: Bopanna/Monfils vs. Nestor/Berdych, W: Nestor/Berdych

Mixed Doubles: Mirza/Bopanna vs. Mladenovic/Nestor, W: Mladenovic/Nestor

Legend’s Singles: Santoro vs. Ivanisevic, W: Santoro

Day 2: Mavericks vs. Warriors

Men’s Singles: Gasquet vs. Kohlschreiber, W: Gasquet

Women’s Singles: Williams vs. Hantuchova, W: Williams

Men’s Doubles: Huey/Raonic vs. Paes/Kohlschreiber, W: Huey/Raonic

Mixed Doubles: Raonic/Gajdosova vs. Paes/Nara, W: Raonic/Gajdosova

Legend’s Singles: Philippoussis vs. Safin, W: Philippoussis

Day 3: Slammers vs. Royals

Men’s Singles: Kyrgios vs. Berdych, W: Berdych

Women’s Singles: Pliskova vs. Ivanovic, W: Ivanovic

Men’s Doubles: Melo/Kyrgios vs. Nestor/Berdych, W: Nestor/Berdych

Mixed Doubles: Bencic/Brown vs. Nestor/Mladenovic, W: Nestor/Mladenovic

Legend’s Singles: Moya vs. Ivanisevic, W: Ivanisevic

Day 3: Mavericks vs. Aces

Men’s Singles: Gasquet vs. Nadal, W: Nadal

Women’s Singles: Williams vs. Radwanska, W: Williams

Men’s Doubles: Huey/Roger-Vasselin vs. Bopanna/Monfils, W: Huey/Roger-Vasselin

Mixed Doubles: Gajdosova/Raonic vs Mirza/Bopanna, W: Mirza/Bopanna

Legend’s Singles: Philippoussis vs. Santoro, W: Santoro