MY IPTL LIFE EXPERIENCE
IPTL 2015: The Unfinished Business – My second trip to IPTL was uncertain. Yet, I found a way to convert that uncertainty into reality. I dug deeper to make things happen. I was also caught watching Rafael Nadal.
The official countdown for IPTL began when my dad and I purchased the upper box tickets. I made sure these tickets were safely kept in a ziplock inside my bag.
Since then, I found myself looking at the calendar, counting the number of days before our scheduled flight. It nearly felt like a Day of Judgment will come.
We’re scheduled to arrive in Manila a day before the inaugural IPTL. The night before our departure, it’s raining heavily and inevitably, I began to feel anxious.
I remained positive. I wanted to believe positive things could happen, but the anxiety was too strong. It’s hard to control it. It’s my first time to become too emotional in such a way that I felt too light.
I checked the weather news in Twitter and Facebook. News reports revealed there was a typhoon. Rains were expected.
Luckily, it wasn’t raining heavily when I woke up at 3 AM. I texted my dad immediately, “Today is the day. Every moment counts.”
I checked the important items inside my hand-carry bag for the very last time.
While my mind visualized about tennis stars inside a big arena, I couldn’t help it but smile.
I knew it was unhealthy to get obsessed with the thought. It wasn’t easy but I did what I can to control my imagination.
My brother-in-law sent us in the airport. While in the road, they’re talking about cars and all those stuffs while I pretended to listen.
I wanted to join the conversation but I refused to talk. Emotions enveloped me and my mind couldn’t shut up. It whispers. It talks. It imagines tennis minute by minute.
When we arrived in the airport, dad and I headed to the check-in counter. There’s no one in the line. I looked up and saw a sign saying it’s an exclusive area for the senior citizens and PWD.
An airport crew wheeled me in the inspection area. Dad was there too, inspected by the security team.
We waited for more than 30 minutes before the plane arrived. I wanted to eat but I couldn’t. I was pretty sure I couldn’t focus on what I would eat.
All I wanted to do that time was get inside the plane. Nothing more.
Thick dirty white clouds were every where while we’re on-board. It looked like it’s raining, Uh-oh.
God is good, however. We safely arrived in NAIA after an hour.
November 28th, Friday
They agreed that they’re going to hand me two lower box tickets.
I couldn’t understand my feelings that time. It’s a mix of disbelief, excitement and #Happiness.
I’m only 30. It’s my first time in an indoor stadium. And, it’s hard to believe my dad and I would already take the lower box.
It’s not just the lower box. It also means we’ll have the behind-the-player type of seats, where I could clearly see how these professionals toss the ball, follow through and move around the court.
Without hesitation, my sister and her husband chose to take the upper box.
Brother-in-law took us in the arena. There were light traffic here and there but it’s okay. That means I had enough time to rest my body and mind.
Still in the road, it’s an indescribable moment when I saw the Mall of Asia Arena – the city’s feast for the eye.
I saw it for the first time two years ago. It’s still unfinished and that time, I was only wishing to get there.
Thankful, in awe, excited – I realized I converted the imagination into reality. However, I couldn’t deny I was still in denial that I was living the dream.
I quickly reminded myself, “Live in the moment. Grab and enjoy it!”
Inside the arena, it’s funny to see my dad clearly looked three-times nervous than I was. Did he really think I will have a panic attack?
Probably, he either felt surprised at how grand the arena was or in amazement that we’re finally inside the venue.
Let me clear this out. Daddy isn’t a tennis fan. He’s into basketball and I still remembered (I was nine that time) those Friday nights when he switched the channel to PBA. I, on other hand, would miss the X-Men team.
Anyway, those memories were in the past. It wouldn’t happen again. Truth is; it’s 2014 and things were different now. We’re in an arena and there’s no switching channels here.
Clueless, Daddy wasn’t aware the arena would be our home for eighteen hours in three days.
The Arena. The Court. Ajde.
We’re allowed to get inside the playing arena thirty minutes before the show. It felt all my stress vanished when I saw the court.
It’s still a bit dark. Yet, I could see its color and design. It’s world-class!
The Australian former world number one, Lleyton Hewitt, was there – warming up. I shouted “Lleyton!” but I had no idea if he heard me.
My dad and I went to our assigned seats. I positioned myself in the wheelchair area and kept inhaling exhaling.
While waiting for the show to start, I looked around and I observed every thing was in order.
DJ Irie kept playing good music (70% of the songs were R&B). Reporters gave updates in front of their cameramen. Dancing lights shone brightly every where.
Aces vs. Slammers was the first scheduled match for Day 1. I smiled when the host opened the show. He enumerated the career accomplishments before revealing the names of each player.
Then, the moment came.
It’s hard to put into words the feelings when he introduced Ana Ivanovic.
While she made her way to the bench and meet her team, all those good memories came back in a flash.
Six years ago, I was only in my bed – watching her first grand slam win in Paris.
Six years after, I was already looking at her live.
I wanted to believe that’s my highest high of my first few minutes inside the arena but I was wrong.
I couldn’t control myself when Ana played against Daniela Hantuchova in the fourth set. I screamed “Ana” and cheered “Ajde” (Serbian term for “Come On”) for every winner she produced.
Believe it when I say I sounded like a crazy tennis fan who needed an immediate medication.
The rallies in live action were breathtaking. The ball looked bigger and those winners became the center of attraction.
Ana quickly found her rhythm and moved around the slow court effortlessly. I also cheered for Hantuchova but it looked like she needed to learn how to control her shots accurately.
History made when Ana’s controlled aggression bageled Hantuchova in 15 minutes.
She became the first and only player to score 6-0 in IPTL Day 1.
Following Ana’s flawless win, Aces won the match after Gael Monfils sealed a 6-1 victory over Lleyton Hewitt.
I was preparing to go out and eat a quick dinner with my dad. However, all plans changed immediately when I saw Andy Murray entered the court for a warm up.
“Every moment counts,” I reminded myself so without overthinking a decision, I stayed inside the arena. I handed my dad the money and informed him to buy anything he wanted.
The arena became a screaming venue when Maria Sharapova arrived and joined Murray. I wasn’t a fan of hers but I admitted to myself, “She looks more expensive live.”
It’s funny to watch them play. They clearly needed more practice and they needed a solid game plan against Nenad Zimonjic and Kristina Mladenovic (Team Royals), who were accomplished players in doubles.
I dislike the overall quality of the set. I expected Mavericks to lose right before it started. They lost as expected but nevermind, the crowd loved it.
Sharapova survived Mladenovic’s test in the fourth. Mladenovic started so strong – moving well and firing winners in all corners.
Sharapova made a lot of heartbreaking errors but miraculously won the five-minute shootout.
All her fans screamed in celebration. During the interview, she admitted she experienced a difficult time controlling the court.
I noticed Murray changed his style a bit. His groundstrokes became deeper. He also showed extra traces of brilliance in movement.
Right in the middle of the set, I predicted Murray to win against Cilic.
The 2013 Wimbledon Champion was up 5-4. Sadly, things happened fast in tennis. Murray choked. When he leveled the set at 5 all, Cilic’s aggression completely devoured Murray in the shootout.
Scheduled matches for IPTL Day 2 were Royals vs. Slammers then Mavericks vs. Aces. Somehow, I knew what to expect and just waited for things to happen.
I adored the rivalry between Tomas Berdych and Marin Cilic. They weren’t my clear favorites on tour but they’re one of the few underrated rivalries that caught my attention whenever I watched a match.
The TV experience came into reality. I never expected to watch them in front of my eyes.
I was focused for a change. I wasn’t cheering. Surprisingly, the set exceeded some of my expectations.
It’s a quality 29-minute set filled with big booming serves, quick hold, high ball toss, quick rallies and some clean winners.
Goran Ivanisevic and Pat Rafter closed out the match in pure entertainment. Someone in the crowd yelled “I love you, Goran” and Goran replied without hesitation, “I love you too.”
Ivanisevic made the crowd laugh, which helped him win the set. Royals won the match!
I knew there’s a 60-40 chance Aces would outplay Mavericks. Aces was unbeatable in Day 1 – especially Ana Ivanovic, the pairing of Sania Mirza and Rohan Bopanna in mixed and the unexpected rise of Fabrice Santoro in legend singles.
Santoro was unstoppable – quickly closing out the opening set against the injured Carlos Moya and the unprepared replacement, Daniel Nestor.
The mighty pairing of Treat Huey and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga gave Mavericks some flickers of hope as they dominated the doubles.
Tsonga totally surprised me. I didn’t know he could play doubles like a rockstar.
Tsonga’s timing showed no signs of weakness. He’s hitting excellent winners greedily.
Huey displayed great movement and quick reflexes too. His attacking game helped them win the set without dropping a game.
Andy Murray lost the singles and mixed after. The latter was the weakest set ever played.
Good news was, Mirza and Bopanna gifted them a breadstick.
Then, the yelling and cheering roared three-times louder as Ana Ivanovic and Maria Sharapova warmed up for the final set.
I knew it’s only an exhibition but I still felt nervous for Ana.
The H2H statistics between the two French Open Champions stood at 9-4 in favor of the Russian. They played four matches in 2014 and they’re 2-2.
The set was nowhere close the epic semifinals in Cincinnati but, Sharapova gave it a green signal and started the set with a solid game plan in her mind. She came forward and fired a winner.
The offensive game continued until things changed when Ana started to play brilliantly.
Sharapova looked tired and fired unnecessary errors. She couldn’t find the right answers while Ivanovic sailed to a 4-1 lead.
Sharapova held for 2-4 but Ivanovic stayed invincible. She held for 5-2 lead. Ivanovic broke Sharapova at 5-3 (40-40) and… I screamed, AJDE!
As expected, Sharapova fans felt disappointed and left the arena.
Scheduled matches for IPTL Day 3 were Aces vs. Royals then Mavericks vs. Slammers.
It’s the last day in home soil and Mavericks scored no wins yet.
I was still dreaming about Ivanovic’s win over Sharapova. Yet, it’s tennis. You don’t know what to expect next.
Just less than 24 hours after the dream exhibition, Ana would open a match against Kristina Mladenovic.
I wasn’t annoyed to see Ana lost. I knew I paid for this event to see her win and lose.
I’m a proud fan and she even made me feel prouder as I was watching her survived.
She’s 1-5 (40-40) down and she’s only one deciding point to losing but she fearlessly came back and win three consecutive games.
She could have tied the set at 4-5 but a forehand that sailed long made her lose the set, 6-4 for Kristina Mladenovic. A learned experience for Ana!
The Ivanovic-Mladenovic was more quality and more memorable set than Ivanovic-Sharapova.
I enjoyed every point and I cheered for Ana by screaming “Ajde” and by clapping the Coca-Cola Clappers. I was in a trance, I’m sorry.
Aces swept Royals in sets two to five.
A Sharapova-less Mavericks vs. Slammers marked as the final match in Manila.
Serena Williams arrived in the court for a warm up. It’s a real delight to see her and her great serve live. She tossed the ball high and followed it through with quick accuracy, speed and power.
Mark Philippoussis made a comfortable debut in Philippines with a convincing 6-2 win over Patrick Rafter.
The 38-year-old Australian and two-time Grand Slam Finalist (US Open in 1998 and Wimbledon in 2003) wasted no single moment.
He easily outplayed the former US Open Champion in all departments.
Huey and Tsonga weren’t as invulnerable as in Day 2. Against Berdych and Kyrgios, all their efforts were enough to win the shootout.
Kirsten Flipkens replaced Maria Sharapova in mixed. Things changed. Flipkens and Murray easily outlasted the combined forces of Hewitt and Serena.
Hewitt looked unprepared while Serena needed more time to adjust her aggressive baseline game.
I was looking at Serena when she returned to their bench. It appeared she studied the court thoroughly.
Behaving like the current world number one, Serena did every thing right after three minutes. Her big serves and sharp returns worked perfectly against Kirsten Flipkens.
NOTE: Serena’s grunts were louder than Sharapova’s.
Andy Murray and Nick Kyrgios battled it out for the fifth and final set. I noticed Kyrgios’ game improved – he’s hitting the ball with great purpose.
The ATP Rising Star gave the two-time Grand Slam Champion a good workout.
Thank God and Murray played smartly when he needed to. He accurately readjusted his defensive game until he won the intense shootout.
The crowd cheered happily. Mavericks won!
IPTL Manila Results: 1. Aces 2. Royals 3. Mavericks 4. Slammers
The organizers and the players flew to Singapore, Delhi and Dubai for the completion of the tournament.
Nick Kyrgios retweeted our photo.
After the first match in Day 1, it’s unexpected to see Kyrgios headed in the lower box.
He’s with his management team and they sat at the lowest row. It appeared they’re discussing some professional matters.
I immediately told my dad to hand him the huge tennis ball for an autograph. Luckily, Kyrgios agreed.
Then, he asked me “How are you, man?” I couldn’t remember what my reply was. Until now, I still asked myself: Did I even reply?
My dad and I only took a little rest and found ourselves in the airport by two in the morning, December 1st.
I didn’t realize I slept briefly while waiting for our 4:55 return flight to Davao. It was a good nap.
For the first time, I slept on the plane too. It only proved I was tired not because of my stay inside the arena, but with all the anxiety, tension and sleepless nights before the event.
We arrived in Davao by seven. Thank God. It wasn’t raining. The clouds were clear, the sun was bright and my mind wasn’t bursting with tennis.
When an airport crew wheeled me outside, I wanted to laugh. My eyes were wet uncontrollably.
I did it. It happened. IPTL made me feel accomplished!