A winner by any measure
Alberto Lim Jr. likens Wimbledon to Disneyland with all its wonders for the wide-eyed first-timer.
“(Playing in Wimbledon) was one of my most memorable experiences in tennis so far,” says Lim, the country’s No. 1 junior player and perhaps its biggest homegrown tennis hope since Felix Barrientos in the 1990s.
Armed with a well-earned spot in the boys’ singles main draw in 2015, Lim still can’t believe having bumped into Andy Murray, Stanislas Wawrinka and Novak Djokovic in an eye-popping locker room that boasts of “ice baths, recovery facilities, jacuzzi and hot tubs.”
Yet nothing beats meeting Roger Federer, the “greatest of all time,” during a practice session in the hallowed grass battlegrounds of the All-England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. The encounter had left him indelible memories. “I love Roger because of his accomplishments and popularity,” says the 17-year-old from Matalaib, Tarlac.
Lim, though, compares his game not to his idol but to Japanese ace Kei Nishikori and Spanish stalwart David Ferrer who, he says, are both “quick and gritty” and “command a strong court presence.”
Playing in the pros alongside his idols can wait, however, he says. For now, he wants to finish his studies and continue playing sterlingly for University of the East, which has always “given me special considerations, especially when I’m playing abroad.”
Last Wednesday, the stocky business management sophomore powered UE to its first-ever UAAP championship at the expense of University of Santo Tomas. He also clinched the Most Valuable Player award.
“Maybe after the UAAP I will start campaigning in the pro tournaments here in Asia,” says the first of two offsprings of Alberto Sr., a club player himself, and Chona Nucum. “That’s my immediate goal.”
AJ says his dad introduced him to tennis when he was seven: “He wanted me to have exercise because I was a fat kid then. I also love basketball, but it was all tennis for me after that.”
Lim’s first big break came in 2011 when he reached the finals of the Orange Bowl age-group championships in the United States. Five years later, with half a dozen international singles titles under his belt, he rose to No. 12 in the world junior rankings— the highest ever by a Filipino.
During that eye-opener of a Wimbledon stint two years ago, Lim reached only the second round but came back home with a renewed confidence in his game. After barging into the third round of last year’s French Open and reaching the last 32 of this year’s Australian Open, the Philippine Tennis Association rewarded the teenaged internationalist with a spot on the Davis Cup team—the youngest ever to play for the country.
But competing overseas regularly is not cheap, not for one whose trips is financed mainly by his father. “I’m lucky that there are sponsors who help my father,” says Lim, whose expenses in 17 junior and four ITF Futures tournament appearances last year were partly defrayed by Philippine Airlines and the Philippine Sports Commission. “Competing in Europe for three weeks costs about P600,000.”
In his first Davis Cup stint last February Lim shocked and awed Indonesia’s No. 1 David Aging Susanto in the first two sets but suffered cramps and then lost steam to lose, 3-6, 2-6, 6-2, 6-1, 1-1 (retired). It might not have been an ideal Cup debut for the teenager but his gritty form inspired the team to victory against the favored Indonesians in the Group 2 first-round tie.
“You can’t be successful right away in the Davis Cup; you have to start somewhere,” says Lim. “The important thing is that I gave it my all in the tie. I will come back and make my country proud.”
While he embarks on a mission to get ready for the pro circuit, Lim says he’ll need a lot of help. “I don’t have a fitness coach and a dietician,” he says. “Top players my age enjoy these because they have sponsors.”
For now, the player known for his intense and feisty court personality is preparing hard for the remaining three Grand Slams in his last year as a junior player.
“Hopefully one day, I can qualify for the men’s Grand Slams,” he says. “It’s going to be tough but I want to be known as a fighter. I’ve never backed down from a challenge.”
With that kind of attitude, how can you go wrong?