PH Cuppers’ rally falls short vs NZ

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LAPU-LAPU CITY—Team Philippines came within a set of sweeping the last three matches of the Davis Cup Asia Oceania Group 2 final tie before going down to New Zealand, 3-2,  in an epic, emotion-packed duel that nearly erupted into a fistfight early Monday morning at Plantation Bay Resort and Spa.

Filipino Ruben Gonzales outlasted New Zealand top player Jose Statham,  7-6 (7-2), 4-6, 1-6, 7-5, 8-6, in a marathon match that dragged for six hours, including a two-hour rain delay, as the hosts forged a deciding rubber after losing the first two singles Friday.

Then Treat Huey, who teamed up with Francis Casey Alcantara  to nail the doubles match Saturday, captured the first two sets against Michael Venus, 7-5, 6-4,  while playing as last-minute replacement for Johnny Arcilla.

But Huey, a doubles specialist who is ranked 13th  in the world with Briton Dominic Inglot, couldn’t close the match on his own and Venus came back in the next three sets, 6-3, 6-1, 6-3,  and secure the tie for New Zealand.

Venus was the biggest hero of the tie as he won the first singles for New Zealand with another scrambling five-set conquest of Gonzales, 4-6, 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (4), 6-0. Statham crushed Arcilla, 6-4, 6-2, 6-4, in the second singles.

It was Statham  who sparked the rhubarb that later led to the NZ team captain Alistair Hunt openly challenging PH Davis Cup administrator and Philippine Tennis Association vice president Randy Villanueva to a fight.

In a fit of frustration, Statham  flicked a ball once at the direction of the PH team, and another which hit a ballboy. Statham was given a warning for “ball abuse.”

The crowd started to boo and jeer the Kiwis after Gonzales won. NZ doubles player Artem Sitak and a therapist then took the situation to another level when they went to the PH bench and openly jeered.

After the match, Hunt stormed to the Filipino side and challenged Villanueva to a fight, triggering a shoving and shouting match between NZ officials and players and PH supporters.

Officials took hours to defuse the tension with International Tennis Federation referee Puneet Gupta finally getting Villanueva and Hunt to settle the issue amicably.  The Huey-Venus deciding match finally started at 11:50 p.m. after officials put up a rope separating both teams and their supporters.

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