WERE you glued to your TV for countless nerve-wracking hours of quality tennis from the world’s finest players in the Australian Open? I don’t blame you.
This is not like watching boxing, football or basketball where there’s a time limit to the contest. What comes close perhaps to sticking to an unpredictable tennis battle is baseball, which is framed in innings and outs but also without any time boundaries.
The truly passionate fans will not leave until the game has been decided because what’s the point of watching if you don’t end up knowing the winner. Sure, the Internet can provide the result later but where’s the fun in that?
Watching Grand Slam tennis matches is like witnessing two gladiators collide without any real body contact. And yet, an opponent’s precise volleys, the missed hits, the unforced errors and the shots that refuse to follow a player’s intentions can be as forceful as Manny Pacquiao’s lethal left hook, Juan Manuel Marquez’s counterpunch or as dazzling as Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s hand speed.
The pounding challenges the player’s endurance and mental strength. Five sets or even three lengthy ones can crush even the most fit. There are, of course, tiebreakers but at Grand Slam level, the points are well-played, creating the inevitable time stretch.
The charm of watching includes checking which player is capable of maintaining his/her quality of play while the physical and emotional toll plays a wicked tug of war.
As you patiently watch, you are mesmerized by Andy Murray, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Li Na, Maria Sharapova, Venus and Serena Williams. When you see Li, your Asian spirit soars even if you may quietly cheer for Sharapova, who is not just a package of great looks that is any sports agent’s dream but has a truly ferocious game.
You can’t help but wish. When will a Filipino be on this world stage? We have Pacquiao and Nonito Donaire Jr. in boxing, Jennifer Rosales in golf and our billiards players.
But what about tennis?
Felicisimo Ampon, “The Mighty Mite” who bucked his disadvantage of being only five feet tall with speed and hustle, reached the quarterfinals of the French Open in 1949 and 1950.
Francis “Casey” Alcantara won the Australian junior doubles title in 2009 with Hsieh Cheng-peng of Taiwan. Unfortunately, Ampon’s exploits were before the television and media-explosion era while Alcantara’s triumph was overshadowed by the airtime devoted to the stars of the boys’ and men’s singles.
This absence of a new tennis hero for the country is not entirely about national tennis programs succeeding or not. Like most individual disciplines, it’s more about the opportunities or breaks that are available to a budding tennis player and the capacity to cover the innumerable expenses on the road to international prominence.
Before a Filipino can flourish in a Grand Slam today, there are countless tournaments, both big and small, that must be played in and won to gain experience, confidence and recognition.
There is a need for top-level conditioning and training under talented teachers and coaches. Even Pacquiao needed Freddie Roach to fine-tune his natural skills and power. Every step along the way means shelling out cash to play, travel, live and survive in the international tennis circuit.
Every Filipino tennis player is hoping for a gracious tennis-loving sponsor but there aren’t that many.
Wouldn’t it be grand in the future if we stayed glued to our TV sets during the Grand Slams rooting for a Filipino? That would make staying up late or stuck to the tube truly worth it.