Thursday, November 10, 2011

Remembering 'Smokin' Joe Frazier

Sportydad joins the boxing world in paying tribute to one of the world's greatest boxing champions.

He reigned in my days of youth, at that time when I was still starting to appreciate the sport of boxing and starting to idolize great boxers. There were no cable TV's then, no live feeds, not even replays. I just read their exploits in the sports pages but somehow I was able  to know them. It is only now that I've got to see them fight because nowadays, a number of TV channels have programs featuring old boxing matches. But I saw Smokin' Joe's first fight with the great Muhammad Ali at the famed Madison Square Garden, then the mecca of great boxing fights, in March 1971. That fight, dubbed as The Fight of the Century, was shown in Ever cinema in Guanco Street in Iloilo Calle Real, then Iloilo's Escolta.  I could not forget that left hook Frazier unleashed in the 14th or 15th round, which knocked down Ali, the first and I think the last time ever that Ali fell to the canvass. That crushing left hook, Frazier's trade mark, won him that match. Of course, everybody know what happened to their next two fights, especially the historic 3rd and last match, Thrilla in Manila in September 1975, considered by many as the greatest boxing match of all time.

Joe Frazier embodies the heart and fighting spirit of a boxing warrior. He never wavered nor retreated. From the first bell to the last, he comes in charging, never afraid, never intimidated. That's how he got his tag name, Smokin' Joe. At 5'11" and weighing just over 200lbs, he was quite small for a true heavyweight. Ali was 6'3" and comfortably  fought at 215 to 220lbs.But Frazier compensated this by his never ending attack, ducking, weaving, in the process absorbing those hard jabs and straights.He fought at close range and barrels his way through for his vaunted and feared hooks. He knocked out many of his opponents by those deadly left hooks.

Only Pacquiao can match the deadliness of that  left hook which could send opponents to dreamland by just a single blow. I pitied him in his 2 fights with that destroyer named George Foreman. Frazier was simply no match to this big man who wallops killer punches where many of  his fights ended just in one round. But he never retreated. Shame on those boxers today who fought only for money and fought only to survive and protect their bodies from bombardment.

Of course, talk of Joe Frazier would not be complete without mentioning Muhammad Ali. Together, they symbolized the glory days of boxing, even if their animosity was carried outside the ring. Ali won the 1960 Rome Olympics Heavyweight title; Frazier followed with the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and Foreman next came in during the 1968 Mexico Olympics. All Olympic Champions. all world boxing champions. In the end though, Ali and Frazier, Frazier and Ali made peace with each other.

Smokin; Joe Frazier will remain  the idol of my youth!

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Mayweather Boxing Foul Up

The whole world saw what the arrogant brat named Floyd Mayweather did to his young opponent, Victor Ortiz in their much awaited fight yesterday at the MGM Hotel and Casino at Las Vegas. To say that it was an unsportsmanlike act is I think an understatement. My kids saw it in disbelief. My wife, who hates boxing (but is only forced to watch it while waiting for the station breaks in between rounds for her to switch to her favorite Sunday noontime show) was aghast. Knocking out an unsuspecting, defenseless opponent who was still in a break mode following a gentleman's beso-beso was a treacherous act. And he says he's the best boxer in the world? Even in those days of  the cowboys "high noon" shoot-outs, all was fair. They count out their steps and draw fire at the designated moment.

The boxing crowd booed the decision by veteran referee Joe Cortez. Their message was clear. It was not a knockout. It was a no contest. Joe Cortez should be sanctioned. He messed it up. How could he say it's a "go" already when he was clearly not looking at the boxers and was even heard talking to someone else? Normally, referees should be at the center  and signal the boxers to start by saying "box". Blame him for that. The post fight interview further revealed Mayweather's persona. He was rude and got irked when Larry Merchant, the respected grand old man of HBO who's been in boxing long before Mayweather was even born, kept on asking himof the circumstance. He was guilty and the whole world saw how disrespectful he was.

I have no love lost for Mayweather. His personal life is a mess. He batters his wife and he is always hailed to court for other misdeeds. Ok, it's his personal life; his boxing is another thing. But he's scared of our idol, Pacquiao, making all excuses in the world just to evade the much awaited fight. Much more, that drug accusation is simply slanderous.That's why, he's not a great boxer. A great boxer should fight the best; that's the only way to prove who you are. Ali fought Frazier three times. Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler, Thomas Hearns, Roberto Duran, all great fighters, Hall of Famers. They fought one another. And the boxing world knew what stuff they were made of. They lost at one time or another but they still were hailed as great boxers. That's why Pacman is great. Not only did he fought and demolished all those best boxers in several weight divisions he could reach, he wants to fight Mayweather to settle the score once and for all.

My wife says how could I enjoy the brutal world of boxing. But boxing is art. Boxing can be fought by true sportsmen. Boxing is a sport of men;men of honor, dignity, courage, respect, discipline. The one we saw yesterday was not the boxing I love.

I can't wait that day when Pacquiao demolish and crush that brat ego tripping Floyd "The Foul" Mayweather.

Monday, September 12, 2011

US Open 2011: Hurting on Federer's Semis Loss

I was hurt, my wife was hurt, and my kids were also hurt by that semi-final loss of our idol Roger Federer to top ranked and No.1 seed Novak Djokovich. It was a classic 5 set thriller but it was hurting how he lost that match. For sure, my friend from our NSC days, Vic, a.k.a. Ting was also hurt for he says, in those games when his idol Roger seemingly loses a match especially against Rafa Nadal, he would just switched off the TV. He just could not endure the suspense.

Advantage Federer. That was his position. He won the first 2 sets and Djoko had to extricate himself from a deep hole he was in by winning the 3rd and 4th sets to extend the match into a do or die 5th setter. Tied at 3 all, Federer stormed ahead to 5-3, and serving for the match, he reached an almost insurmountable triple match point. All he needed was an ace and the match is over. Djokovich himself looked resigned to his fate. But I don't know what happened. Pressure for sure, pressure he always handled in the past by his cool demeanor, must have crept on him. And Djokovich recovered, saved matchpoint and went on to tie the set at 5 apiece. Clearly, the tide turned in his favor, and ended at 7-5. All this time, the cameras would focus on Mirka for almost every point won or lost. She was shouting, cheering from the box, but how could we described how she felt after that loss? Didn't we said she's the most courageous woman in tennis?

So it's gonna be the No.1 seed vs the No.2, a rare happening. In fact to have the top 4 seeds in semis doesn't also happen often. It promises to be another classic match, a no holds barred encounter, power for power, speed for speed, and what have you. In last year's final, they also met with Nadal winning. So Djoko has a score to settle. Nadal has a mission to redeem his top ranked status. My crystal ball? It's gonna be Djokovich. Watch it live starting 4AM tomorrow, Manila time.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Remembering Ground Zero While Watching US Open 2011 Semis

I was watching the semis of US Open 2011 and heard Rafa Nadal's brief dedication to the victims of 9/11 after his winning match against Andy Murray.

It took me back to New York and World Trade Center now Ground Zero 25 years ago.

Here's my story.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Roger Federer's Matchpoint: Mirka

Mirka at the Davidoff Swiss Indoors games

Mirka. She is of course the wife of Roger Federer and mother of their two year old twin daughters. They got married in 2009 although they have been together for quite sometime now, ever since they met at the 2000 Sydney Olympics where they both represented their country, Switzerland, in tennis. Hers is the face that regularly and constantly graces Federer's player's box in all his matches, especially during the tennis majors. No other woman, wife, girlfriend, or companion or whatever could match that adoring presence, much less survive the suspense, thrill, and excitement, in victory and defeat, every game her man played. Her "stamina" in the player's box for almost ten years now has the media describing her as "the most courageous woman" in tennis. I've seen and watched her perhaps since 2002 because the TV cameras have always focused on her. You could sense her joy when Federer scores and wins but likewise feel her pain and agony in those difficult moments and defeats of her man. We ourselves watching on TV could hardly bear those moments because we are Federer's big fans. How many times has he gone through tie breaks, 5 setters, etc.; those classic encounters with Rafa Nadal in Wimbledon and Australian Open where Federer broke down during the awarding ceremony . She's a major presence indeed in the tennis world but the significance of that presence was best described by Federer himself when he said, "Thanks to her, I have been very calm in the important moments of my career."

Miroslava Vavrinec, a.k.a. Mirka was born in Bojnice, Slovakia (formerly Czechoslovakia). At age 2, her parents migrated to Switzerland. When she was 9, she watched tennis legend Martina Navratilova (also from Czechoslovakia but later acquired American citizenship) play in Germany. It was here that Navratilova took fancy on her, discovering a potential champion. Thereafter, she sent her a racket and gave her a trainer. At age 15, Mirka became Switzerland's Girls Junior champion. She attained her highest ranking in the ATP tour at No.76 in 2001 but recurring foot injury forced her to retire in 2002. Since then, she went with Federer with a role as Press and Public Relations Manager. It is said that in those years that Federer didn't have a coach and manager, she also acted as one because being a professional player herself, she knows tennis. Her addiction to chewing gums is famous and you could see her continually chewing during the games. And unlike most wives, celebrities, etc, she doesn't have a blog nor a twitter account.

Mirka, called Federer's secret weapon by The Independent

She has a beautiful face that still looks the same after 10 years. She may have gained weight but it is still that face that launched 200km/hr serves and aces in Roger Federer's arsenal. Federer is arguably the greatest tennis player of all time, having won the most number of tennis major titles at 16 at all four Grand Slam tournaments, the Australian, French, Wimbledon, and US Open. And perhaps still going. But many agree that he couldn't have accomplished everything he has in his career without the "constant, loving, sympathetic, and knowledgeable" presence of Mirka. German tennis legend Boris Becker aptly described their relationship: "So this is it. Match point for eternity."  

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Love Matches of Tennis Superstars

Jelena Ristic, Novak Djokovic's girl

It's interesting and quite "showbizzy" to be following ( to know maybe is the more appropriate word ) the loves of our idol tennis superstars. My wife even quipped,"why, do they still have time for that?" Yet, when you read that this and that have already broken up, the most common reason they cite is, "we just didn't have time for each other". For me, I just love to hear that he or she is in love with this girl or man.

During a match, watch out for that beautiful lady or handsome gentleman in the player's box   which the TV camera focuses from time to time. No doubt, she's the girlfriend or wife or he's the boyfriend or husband. More often, it is the TV that confirms the relationship.

First on the roll. World's No.1 Novak Djokovic's girlfriend, Jelena Ristic.Also from Serbia, she's Novak's longtime girlfriend, described by the press as the lady with "a flawless face, beautiful hair, delicate body, and a beautiful smile".She's not always at his box for she stays in Monaco, pursuing a Master's degree and working as Human Resource Coordinator in a Libyan oil company. A few days ago, it was confirmed that they are finally getting married next month, with Scotman, World No.4 Andy Murray as the best man. Headlining the women's draw is No.1 Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark and boyfriend, young golfer sensation and one time Major winner Rory McIllroy. Good match. Both aces. Reminds me of another tennis-golf love pair before: Swiss No.1 Martina Hingis and Spain's top golfer, Sergio Garcia. Now, Maria Sharapova, tennis' poster girl, is engaged to Sasha Vujacivic who helped Kobe Bryant and the Lakers win their 3rd straight NBA title a year ago but who now plays with the New Jersey Nets. This is another good match and a slam dunk showtime. We could add Ana Ivanovic and golf sensation Australian  Adam Scott.  These are just a few of those love matches.

But I think the two greatest matches so far is the Roger-Mirka Federer and the Andrei Agassi-Steffie Graf love affairs.Theirs are beautiful and enduring love stories that need a separate story telling.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Good Riddance, Tim Cone

It's difficult not to write about Tim Cone, or his parting ways with the Alaska Aces basketball team. After all, even if you're not really a die hard PBA fan, I guess  you would still know him. First, it came as a rumor. But then, when there's smoke, there's really fire. And yesterday, with their management in complete cast, Fred Uytengsu, the "Alaska Man" announced the news. With that, it ended what sportswriters say as the longest and most successful team-mentor partnership in the Philippine Basketball Association. Some good things really don't last.

Tim Cone was the face of the PBA in the 90's together with his stars Johnny Abarrientos, Bong Hawkins, and Jojo Lastimosa. That was their decade, their glorious era, winning a grand slam in 1996 and a near triple crown in 1998. All in all, in Tim's 22 years as coach, they won 13 championships, and 25 Finals appearances. Throughout these years, you see this man, always in white long sleeve and tie, walking to and from the bench, kneeling, and often exploding and arguing with the referees. All his assistants were also in that long sleeve-tie attire, the only team in the PBA who don such formal dress code. Look at the NBA coaches. They are always prim and proper in their formal suits. That was perhaps Tim's badge in the PBA, not so much that he's an American used to such dress code. But it gives some formality and serves notice that basketball, or PBA, is not just play but also business.

Why he's leaving is obviously the big question. He and Fred Uytengsu, the owner, are best of friends even before the PBA days. Officially, they said, he's taking a new career, will take a rest, a change in direction, such and such. But the grapevine said that Tim was disappointed and frustrated that while  other teams are focused on building up their teams by signing up marquee players, etc, Alaska is in no mood to do that. In fact, it seems to disintegrate, releasing top gun Joe Devance with other stars like LA Tenorio and Cyrus Baguio ready to be traded. Years ago, Kobe Bryant threatened to leave the Lakers if Management will not sign up ( read: invest) players who can support him in their title bids. That time, the Lakers just can barely make it to the play-offs. So Management satisfied Kobe, and the last build up was the transfer of Pau Gasol from Memphies.Instantly, that season, the Lakers became serious title contenders, winning the Western Conference. It got short though in the Finals when they got clobbered by their old rival in the East, the Boston Celtics in a dream match. They redeemed themselves the next year and reigned supreme for 3 years. That's basketball and that's business.

It is not farfetched though that we will see Tim Cone again, perhaps sooner than expected.  Maybe also in a different uniform.     

Thursday, September 1, 2011

US Open 2011 Sidelights

One of the things I like about tennis majors are the surprises and historical significance they always bring. Like this year's US Open. It's just Day 3 and look what we've got.

Seemed like hurricane Irene just didn't come to New York. For 3 days now, the USTA Billie Jean King Tennis National Center at Flushing Meadows are enjoying fine weather. To think that the day before that, subways were closed and  the Big City were grappling with a rare hurricane of Category 4 level. The crowds kept coming, during day and night matches. Somebody else were affected by floods and devastation. The fans just love the US Open. 

Day 1 saw upsets not seen before since 1971. Last year's ladies major champions were eliminated or were just out of it...And so it kept the ladies draw wide open. First to go was last year's Australian Open champion, Kim Clijsters who withdrew because of injury. Then Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova got the boot to 48th ranked Romanian named Alexandra Dulgheru. Finally, it's French Open champion, the Chinese hero, Li Na who succumbed to another Romanian, 53rd ranked tenager Simona Halep in straight sets at that. The other Willliams, Venus, also is out of it after succumbing to a viral infection.What does that make? Well, top seed Caroline Wozniacki, the world's No.1 who haven't won a tennis major yet might do it this year.  Then there's Serena Williams, always a contender when she plays and when injury free. But my bet is still with my idol, Maria Sharapova. Oh, if only she plays consistently, less unforced errors, and with confidence in serving, not the double faults I always dread everytime she does it. Remember, she lost her semis match to Li Na at the French Open due to these.  She's tennis glamor girl. How I wish the other glamor girl and also my idol, Ana Ivanovic, who won her first round match, could go on and reach just even the quarter finals. And there's one more. Sergie Bubka, Jr., the son and namesake of one of the world's greatest athletes and perhaps the greatest pole vaulter of all time, Sergy Bubka of Ukraine, is playing in this tourney, and won his first round match. 

And for a bit of history. Just about this time 23 years ago, August 30, 1988, two young Americans, one 17 years old and the other 18 years,  made their opening debut in the US Open. The 18 year old won his match  in straight sets. His name was Jim Courier. The 17 year old lost his in 5 sets. But after that, his name became synonymous with tennis. His name: Pete Sampras. Do they need more introductions?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

US Open 2011

The last major event of the year in tennis, the US Open opened the day after Hurricane Irene came to the city. It was as if, everything was normal; when millions was still reported to be without power and floods threatened New York and neighboring states and cities. Imagine the scare, the suspense, the drama this Irene brought to the organizers of the the US Open, much more to the players and of course, to the fans. For sure, practices were cancelled, arrivals delayed, and what more. How it would impact on the players' conditioning, both physical and mental, is yet to be seen. To illustrate, Venus Williams' first round opponent on opening night, Russian Vesna Dolonts arrived from Moscow barely 4 1/2 hours from playing time. Whatever she felt, jet lag and all, she did not show during the game. She simply succumbed to a mild hurricane named Venus Williams.

The men's first round results were played according to the script. Seeded players, led by all time great and  5 time US Open champion, Roger Federer led the march. But the story of the opening day was reserved for the women's draw. Petra Kvitova, a former Wimbledon champion got her early exit. It was however the match of 2006 champion and hot favorite, No.3 seed Maria Sharapova that sent shock waves to those who watched the game. Pressured by an upstart, 19 year old British Heather Watson, seeded 102 and a former Wimbledon junior champion, the match was extended to 3 sets in 2 hours 34 minutes. Surely can not be considered as a first round work out.  Watson, winning the first set, 6-3,  threatened an Irene devastation in the Open when she rallied to forge an exciting 2nd set match which Sharapova agonizingly won 6-4.  It was a close shave for my idol, a game she still won despite having 50 plus unforced errors. She however won and for now it's good for her, for us her fans, fans attendance and gate receipts, and to ladies tennis..

Meanwhile, we will have 2 weeks of fun, and excitement. Watched those big, booming serves which could equal if not surpass Irene's category 4 fury rating.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Leonel Angel Coira: Newest Soccer Child Prodigy

While our football officials are going out of their way to scout and recruit talents from Europe and the US to reinforce our Azkals football team, now comes the news of a 7 year old kid signed up by Real Madrid, one of the world's most popular and greatest club teams. Isn't that fantastic and great? Or on the other hand, weird, scary, or exploitation? Well, that's the latest news breaker in the world of football which I first learned and heard on ANC's Hardball.

His name is Leonel Angel Coira of Argentina. Three years ago, his family moved to Madrid where his father coaches a local youth team. This is where he was discovered.  Ironically, his favorite team is Barcelona, the arch rival of Real Madrid and his idol is Barcelona star striker and fellow Argentinian World Footballer of the Year, Lionel Messi. But Real Madrid got the first crack for this talent and signed him for a 1 year development contract to join their youngest team, the "Benjamin' squad composed mainly of kids under 9 years old. Is signing also came on the heels because another Spanish Team, Atletico Madrid was likewise hot on his trail.

Apparently in Spain or in Europe, signing up children in soccer is nothing new. They have extensive youth academies where they train and develop future stars. Spain's national goalie and also Real Madrid's goalie, Iker Casillas joined he Madrid Youth System at age 9. But there is also a commercial strategy to this. It is a club's tactic to enlist young talents to avoid huge transfer fees when they become full blown stars.

 Many doubt whether these kids will eventually  bloom into the levels of a Pele, or a Maradona or a Messi who himself is still young in early 20's but already on the peak of his success. As for this new sensational kid on the block, nicknamed Leo, we'll have to wait till he becomes 16 when he now be legally allowed to play for the first division tournaments and perhaps the national team and the ultimate, the World Cup.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Quo Vadis Philippine Dragon Boat Team?

When it rains, it pours. And looked how it poured for the Philippine Dragon Boat Team. First, it got the nation's fancy and admiration even before they arrived home. Now the whole country knew them, and of course, their story, the drama involved. When they returned home, they were received at Malacanang by no less than the President of the Philippines who also bestowed them a citation. Then came TV interviews and appearances. I like the honor given them last Sunday on ABS-CBN ASAP noontime show.

The other day, the AFP, to which many of them belong, likewise gave them honors, followed by their appearance in Congress where several resolutions were passed in their honor. It's as if, everybody was making up for the shoddy and unfair treatment they got from our national sports bodies tasked to promote and finance sports in our country. They will have their "day in court" if and when Congress (or is it the Senate?) go on with their planned investigation of their plight.

The chairman of the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) Ritchie Garcia and a ranking Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) official Jeff Tamayo (the same official who uttered that now famous dig or insult to the players by describing them as "old" and "ampao") were quoted in media as saying that the "be all, end all" of government funding is the Olympic gold. And since the dragon boat is not an International Olympic Committee (IOC) event, nor its federation recognized by IOC, our dragon boat team does not deserve their funding and subsequently their attention. If that is so, then PSC and POC shall henceforth stop all funding and programs of IOC events like basketball, football, tennis, track and field, swimming, volleyball, and many more simply because these events can not in many lifetimes produce Olympic golds. And this includes Tamayo's event, soft tennis, where he is the president of their association. Excuse me, but does anybody know what is soft tennis and who are our players, and what are their international standings?  The only legitimate event they should support is boxing where we stand a good chance of Olympic gold.

Now, the question is: after all this euphoria, what's next for our dragon boat team? Quo Vadis? It seems sad to ask it considering that this sport has its ancient origin 2000 years ago in the Kingdom of Chu. According to Inquirer's columnist Patricia Evangelista (Aug.14 issue), its origin can be traced back to the time when a well loved Chinese poet, "Qu Yuan jumped into the Mei Lo River as a final act of protest against a corrupt government. The fishermen tried to save him, sailing up and down the river, thrashing the water with oars and paddles to frighten away the fishes.  This tradition spanned generations, with paddlers standing at the head of long boats while a drummer pounded a rhythm to frighten evil spirits. They were called dragon paddlers. And the story goes that when they rowed, they rowed with honor. 2000 years after, the dragons still fly."

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Marie Escudero: The Master "Massieur" is in Town

The title is actually massage therapist, and she is lady,  Her name is Marie Escudero and she said she was once a member of the Philippine national football team, pre Azkals period of course. Sweet, beautiful, brown skinned (or was it just tanned?), I saw her on ANC channel, being interviewed in Hardball by Bill Velasco, Boyet Sison and Boom Gonzales.

Maria Escudero hits big in this field, which she says is very personalized, counting big stars as her clients like  Sir David Beckham of the English National Football Team and husband of the famous Spice Girl, Victoria, Simon Cowell, Pau Gasol, and even our very own Manny Pacquaio. Her break was his client Fil-Am actor Rob Schneider.

I like getting massages. My body longs for it. Good thing, home service call a massage business has sprouted in our community that I can easily avail of it. From P200-250 per hour, they're quite cheaper than those massage parlors in malls where the cheapest one-hour service is P500-600. Add some tips and it would also cost you a fortune if you do it frequently. But a good massage makes your body rejuvenated and relaxed, and removes some body aches. It further improves your blood circulation.

The best massage I have ever experienced was a foot massage I had last year in Shanghai. Yes, in China. It was our last day of a 3-day business trip and our host drove us all the way to this massage joint  near hte community where the expats live. Soothing, relaxing, comforting, I felt my foot has gone lighter and removed the tiredness it felt  after 3 days of walking, strolling, in Shanghai. And to think that the therapist was a young lady, perhaps still in her late teens or early 20's, yet how her hands move and her techniques were those of an experienced masseur. That massage experience was one of the highlights of that trip. Had we have more time, I could have went on with a full body massage.

Now, at home, my 11 year old athletic kid likes to be massaged too. I'm quite hesitant to give him a session with my regular masseurs. I'm not sure whether at this age, it is already proper for him to have it. So, he just requests her "ates" to do it especially after a hard day's play. and seeing him enjoy the satisfaction the massage brings, I could see myself in him.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Philippine Dragon Boat Odyssey: Victory and Tragedy

By winning 5 golds and 2 silvers in a world-championship event held at Tampa, Florida, our dragon boat team won the hearts of  Filipinos, especially the Fil-Ams based there who went out in full support of the team. They're the world champions in their events and even their American and other opponents from several countries were all praises for them. T'was one of those rare moments in international sporting events where our national anthem was played during the medal awarding. Their accomplishment was a Philippine victory; and we hailed them heroes.

Victory? Heroes? Not quite,according to our sports officials from the POC (Phil. Olympic Committee) and the PSC (Philippine Sports Commission). And this the tragedy of it all. Here you have two agencies in charge of sports development in the Philippines belittling the team and their achievements to justify their not giving financial support and non recognition. To rub salt to injury, news reports today say, they go to the extent of hurling malicious charges and insults to the members of the team; saying, "they are already too old for the sport, that they falsify their time trials, that they are taking steroids". What a disgraceful statement. They could not give financial support for reasons of their own but yet can afford to throw in these malicious statements. And they are supposed to be the honorable men tasked to develop, promote, enhance, etc our country's sports. And we're not even mentioning here their capabilities.

Consider this. On the age issue. I think it's a case of "look who's talking?" These officials have been here for as long as i can remember; and look how old they really are. They are as if officers for life in the the POC and PSC. Case in point. We have the wrestler Baylon who the last time I read was already nearing 50's, yet still actively competing and winning honors for the country in the SEA(Southeast Asian Games).He has been competing since the 70's. Will you take issue with that? an "old" man but still winning golds. If at all, the issue is with PSC and POC because they were not able to do grass root development programs to discover new talents. They could not even harmonize the different NSA's(National Sports Associations), where they themselves are quarreling and feuding, non stop, for power for sure, to the detriment of Philippine sports. Swimming, Karatedo, Athletics(PATAFA),Equestrian,Cycling, Badminton,Basketball,Canoe-Kayak and Dragon Boat, etc.

Come on, give Philippine Sports a break.

Oh by the way, kudos to Lucio Tan and his Philippine Air Lines(PAL) and Cobra Energy Drink for the much needed support.(plane fair, energy drinks, etc)

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

After Azkals, Can Wesley So and Co. Be Left Behind?

Relegated  in background news amid the euphoria of the Azkals match with Kuwait and the arrival of NBA stars led by Kobe Bryant who played two games against the PBA stars and our Smart Gilas national team was a strong chess tournament participated only by all the grandmasters of our country. I hope the day will come when chess will also find place in our country's top sports priority.

In chess, size does not matter. Therefore, this is a sport where Filipinos can excel and compete with the world's best.

Historically, we did made significant strides in the international scene. Eugene Torre was Asia's and our country's first grandmaster. His fait accompli was done in Nice, France Chess Olympics sometime in early 70's while playing top board for the Philippine team. Considering that the top boards are normally manned by the best grandmasters of every country, such feat was indeed a great accomplishment. For a while, Torre has remained one of the top young grandmasters in the world. Our 2nd grandmaster, the late Rosendo Balinas, earned his grandmaster norm after topping and winning a strong chess tournament in Russia (USSR then), the home of the world's grandmasters. Before him, no other foreigner has won a chess tournament in Russian soil. After them, however, came a drought of grandmaster in the making. Meanwhile, China, Vietnam, and India have started to produce many and top grandmasters, including women. In recent years, thanks to the support by the Philippine Chess Federation led by its president, Prospero "Butch" Pichay, the controversial former congressman from Surigao, through various  international exposures and local  chess tournaments, our number of grandmasters has grown.

Leading the pack is teenage sensation super grandmaster Wesley So from Cavite. For quite sometime now, he is our country's No. 1 player and one of the top young grandmasters in the world. Barely 17 or 18 perhaps, he has performed well in strong chess tournaments abroad, winning some, and/or  placing among the top finishers. He has beaten a number of super super grandmasters like Gata Kamsky of the US and others. His ELO rating of 2670+, a super grandmaster level, is the highest rating a Filipino had. His performances here and abroad weighs more than other performances we toast. Wesley So, surely, should be our country's pride.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Chess Anyone?

I learned chess when it was introduced by a classmate in our first year high school.  Back then, it was a popular event in our school's annual Sportsfest. Immediately then, I got hooked to it. I introduced it at home and in a short time, my elder brother became my chess rival at home. I would skip meals playing it; I would go to barber shops and sidewalks to watch chess games. I would spend whole days to watch tournaments. I would even skip my homework and studies to play chess.And I would read chess books, trying to understand Sicilian, King and Queen Gambit Decline, all those opening lines and end games tactics. I would also search for news articles, biographies of great chess players, etc.

That's how I came to know Murphy, Capablanca and their contemporaries, to Botvinnick, Tal, Petrosian, Spassky, Gligoric, Portisch, etc. And yes, most especially the mercurial American genius, Bobby Fischer (I would later find out that my father-in-law kept a lot of books on chess, especially on Bobby Fischer), my idol. But of course, my era  includes Karpov, Kasparov to AnandKamsky, the Polgar sisters,etc., including those upcoming Chinese and Vietnamese top young grandmasters. Until now, I still read with interest and enthusiasm news about chess. It pains me though that many big tournaments, local and especially international, do not merit due space in both print and broadcast media.

It was not unnatural therefore that I taught chess to my kids early on. My eldest kid learned chess before he went to Grade 1. When he was in Grade 3, he became their level (5 sections per level) champion. Unbeaten, he proudly said. My other younger kid almost learned it by himself. My wife and I were then amazed that he learned it by just watching me and his Kuya play. At kindergarten, I underestimated his capacity to understand how the Knight moves, how powerful the Queen is, how to checkmate an opponent in a King-Rook endgame.etc. Now, he beats his older brother with regularity. But now that they both know how to play, I don't encourage, much more push them to go seriously into chess. I don't want them to spend much time studying and playing and the game. It's enough that they know how to play and if on their own they can still improve without those long hours of analyzing games, it would already be a bonus to me. I know how it is to be serious here. It can be addicting, and you can forget about everything else.

Here's my son showing off his gold medal in chess. 

I seldom play chess now. I just content myself comfortably watching and analyzing games, and reading developments of the game. I'm happy that now, we have already a double-digit number of grandmasters. Time was when our national team would play in the Chess Olympics with only Eugene Torre in Board 1 as Grandmaster and the rest international and national masters. There, they would pit themselves against an all Grandmaster (including reserves) line-up from chess giant countries in Europe and Americas. With proper support, effective program and inspiring leadership,  we could discover more Torres, Balinas, Cardoso, Antonio, Gomez, Paragua, etc. and, much more,  hopefully more Wesley Sos.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The NBA Lockout

The looming NBA lockout is an unwelcome news for us, basketball fans all over the world. What would be November (this year) to June (next year) without the great entertainment that is NBA. In fact, the reason why I upgraded our cable channel is to be able to tune in to Basketball TV for its whole season coverage of NBA. My kids wouldn't like this. Oh!, our own PBA couldn't just be a good substitute.

What's this lockout all about. Well, in the NBA, they have a players' union and like any other unions, they do have CBA ( collective bargaining agreement) with the owners group. This CBA has just expired and they are negotiating a new CBA. It's all about money; the owners wanting hard salary caps, reducing the present 57/43 split of basketball income and shorter contracts. Considering NBA's global reach on ads, promos, merchandise, and tv contracts, the amounts are not just in millions but in billions of dollars. BY the way, Derek Fisher, the veteran Laker guard, is the president of the players union.

Sometime in the mid 90's, the NBA season was shortened (the normal total number of games in one season is 82) because I think of the same problem. That time, the San Antonio Spurs, led by their twin towers, the veteran David " The Admiral" Robinson and upcoming star Tim Duncan, became the champions. It would start the Spurs titles in the league for the next ten years.

Reports are saying Kobe Bryant is mulling a possible stint in China. So imagine Kobe Bryant playing in China, donning perhaps the Shanghai Sharks uniform, now owned by newly retired Yao Ming. Derek Williams of the New Jersey Nets is almost sure of playing with the Turkish team, Besiktas, the same team where Allen Iverson played last year. Where will the other stars go? Kevin Durant, Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, Derrick Rose, etc. Just when we are expecting another exciting season. September is the start of the training camp. We just hope the issue will be settled soon and all's well that's ends well. For love of basketball.

Why? Have you heard the  news that the inaugural event of the soon to rise ultradome at Mall of Asia will be a regular NBA game? If that happens, that will surely be a real, real, big, big, scoop, perhaps even bigger than the Thrilla in Manila of Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier in Araneta Coliseum in 1975.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Thank You, Azkals!

Philippine Azkals and Kuwait  Al Azraq battled it our at Rizal Memorial Stadium, Manila

Well done. It was a game worth the wait, worth the hype, and worth watching, live; despite the rain. We lost to a more superior and more experienced team, the Al Azraq of Kuwait. It was victory though for Philippine football. Never has football gained nationwide popularity and recognition in this country which is still more passionate on basketball. The whole world, including our ASEAN neighbors, though, are football crazy.

So much has been said about the game. I have to add my take.

The game was again lost in the 2nd half. The Azkals played a good fighting first half, punctuated by that classic goal by Stephan Schrock in the closing minute of the first half to go 1-nil.. But the 2nd half was a different story.. It was apparent that the lax on defense did them in. Despite playing with only 10 men after a member was thrown out following  a hard tackle on Chieffy Caligdong, the Kuwaitis never panicked . Their short passes were always a threat. Our players was not able to capitalize on the Kuwaitis manpower deficit. They were quite slow in going back to defense after a failed offense. The first goal was a shocker. The 2nd goal was the result of not being able to go back fast on defense.  They simply were just passed by a streaking Kuwaiti from the center of the field down to the top of the penalty area. On this one on one situation, goalie Neil Etheridge was forced to go out of the goal and meet the head on the rushing Kuwaiti, leaving the goal wide open. In football, a split second lapse can be punished severely. Most often, this will cost the game.

My hats are off to Fil-German Stephan Schrock. He was my MVP. He was everywhere. From defense to orchestrating offense. From left field to center to right field. His defense was superb, spiked by those spectacular saves and tackles. His bullet shot from way out got the whole stadium and the whole country in frenzy and wild jubilation. That shot was a reel highlight. I saw it coming. We were seated just in front of that area and the resiliency of Chieffy fighting for that ball near the corner marker before Shrock got the ball was not lost on me. And have you seen Schrocks' very Filipina looking mother, Maria, who flew all the way from Germany to watch his game?

We don't know when we will see another  football game of this caliber in the future. There is the Under 23 SEA Games in November this year and the AFC Challenge Cup next year but will be played somewhere else. For now, we hail our heroes, our Azkals, for a job well done. We thank too the coaching staff and the Philippine Football Federation. for making this happen. In a gesture of this gratitude and admiration, we in the crowd, did not leave the stadium immediately after the game. We waited and cheered as our Azkals heroes made their traditional oval run. That was also their way of thanking the Filipino fans for all their support and love of the team. It was a touching moment; for us; and for them too.

Football, the beautiful game, has finally arrived in the Philippines.  

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Go Azkals!

Make or break. Do or die. Go or stay home. Experience vs. upstart. Mission impossible. Will it rain for the Azkals? These are some of the descriptions of sportswirters and buffs for today's game of our own dear Azkals team vs. Kuwait. What else could I say but GO AZKALS.

All roads will lead to the fabled Rizal Memorial tonight. One of the biggest events in recent memory. One that unite our people. One that excites the nation. One that make us proud. Only Manny Pacquaio has surpassed this phenomenon. Win or lose, the Azkals has already made history. It's a joyful day, rain or no rain.

What's up for tonight. A very tall order. We have to overcome that 0-3 deficit. Almost a miracle. That's what Phil Star Sports say in bold letters: BELIEVE IN MIRACLE! Okay. Miracles do happen. How's that to happen?

My two cents worth. From defensive mood in the first game, we should play aggressive offense. We have to score. And ideally, we have to score early. That would inspire us and perhaps rattle the Kuwaitis. Fil-German Stephen Schrock  is expected to orchestrate the flowing offense and will also be at the forefront of defense with Aly Borromeo also back into action.. The offense should step up. We almost scored  in the first half then; perhaps their defense is not rock solid. Expect then that they will change strategy. Protecting their almost insurmountable 3-0 lead,I anticipate they'll move backward in defense, also in respect to the abilities of our attackers. But watch out for their offense too. They have strong attackers. And they can shift fast from defense to offense and vice versa. They are well conditioned .I don't think our weather will bother them as they are exposed to international events. Our Azkals should play as if this is their last. They have to run the full 90 minutes. Time is sticking. Obviously, while more on offfense, they should not throw caution in the wind on defense. The 12th man should come in all the time. The hometown crowd. Let's go rah rah rah.

I look forward to a good game. Such high caliber football does not happen here every day. A 2-1 Azkal win is doable. 1-0 is realistic. But 3-0 or 4-0? Come on! Kuwait is champion of Gulf Cup of Nation and West Asian Cup titles last year; both high level Asian tourneys. Football is Kuwait's national passion, perhaps more then Filipinos adore basketball.

I'm taking my family to the game. To support our Azkals. For our country. For the love of football.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Homecoming for SportyDad

SportyDad went on a weekend break to attend the UP HS Iloilo homecoming where our class was one of the honored jubilarians. T'was so good to be home. Home is UP Iloilo (now UP Visayas) where we spent the best years of our student days. The campus looked the same, the old buildings still standing and defying time, serving as mute witnesses to our growing up years. The playground now looked small; it looked big then when it was the main venue for our Sportsfest, student teach-ins, bonfires, etc. The reunion in sum was best described by Sen.Franklin Drilon, a member of the Golden Jubilarian class 1961  and adjudged as the Most Distinguished Alumnus. Indeed, he said, "this reunion uplifted our collective spirit and renewed our bond." And when Push on UP and UP Naming Mahal hyms were played, it was the older batches who seemingly sang the loudest.

Here's our batch with the Oblation. On my left, in blue shirt, is Nonong Araneta.

After the Saturday (July 22) dinner ball (which was the highlight of the affair), we proceeded to watch the Kuwait leg of the Azkals-Kuwait FIFA qualifier. We settled at the lobby of Smallville 21 hotel, located at Smallville, Iloilo's version of Eastwood. With us was our classmate, Mariano "Nonong" Araneta, Jr., the president of the Philippine Football Federation (PFF). His phones were busy, messages from Kuwait,  from local news reporters, and from many others. In between, we talked about the game, our prospects, strategy, personalities, skills and background of the players, news coverage, etc. Excitement, anxiety, rolled into one. 15 minutes from kick-off, he received a text message of the starting line-up. Definitely, the absence of Borromeo and Schrock necessitates some adjustments. He already sensed the weakness of the line-up; the left field to be manned by Jason Sabio. True enough, this is the left wing where the Kuwaitis made a killing on their attacks.

We jumped in excitement when Phil Younghusband had a clear opportunity to score the first blood as he left all defenders and faced one on one with the Kuwaiti goalie. Alas, to me he misfired that premature kick which was deflected by the goalie. Had he dribbled and side stepped one more, no way the goalie could have reached it. And Guirado's header which hit the bar was also very unlucky. We could have scored first and this could have definitely altered the complexion of the game. In the next ensuing play, the Kuwaitis, fast and superior in ball handling and movement counter atttacked. When near the corner area the Kuwaiti attacker was free, I could almost anticipate the next move. Kick to the center for a header cross. I've seen this over and over in European leagues, and indeed that was precisely done. The area was  quite covered but as luck would have it, Kuwait scored the first goal on a header. Still, there was hope. The 1-0 halftime score was acceptable.We went out of the hotel lobby and had ice cream at past 1 in the morning across the street. Somehow it cooled off the heat and tension. Our Azkals, we hoped, should concentrate more on defense in the 2nd half. But it turned out not to be. They lost focus, they found it hard to regroup and no substitute was called in for fresher legs. The Kuwaitis in turn displayed why they are one of the top teams in Asia.

We expect a closer game come Thursday at Rizal Memorial Stadium. Borromeo and Schrock will be back, perhaps the fancied Jerry Lucena and Mulders can play. Put in the hometown crowd. It will be an exciting game. A close game and a close Azkals victory is possible but a 4-3 aggregate which could make us advance to the next round is a tall, tall order.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Japan Wins FIFA Women's World Cup 2011

I've been looking for this news in our local newspapers for over a week. For all of football or soccer's popularity worldwide, with FIFA saying 29 million women and girls are already playing football, it amazed and disappointed me that it didn't merit attention in local news. And I thought everybody is going gaga over the Azkals. Finally, today, in my regular major newspaper, it merited space. And rightly so; for all the drama and historical significance that happened in Germany, the host nation.

Its significance: Japan, drawing strength from the misery of the tsunami disaster back home, won its first ever Women's World Cup championship in its first ever finals appearance. They also became the first ever Asian nation to win the championship after beating the favored USA team in the finals, 3-1 on penalty shoot-out after coming from behind twice in a 2-2 stand-off after regulation and extra time.They haven't beaten an American team in 25 meetings before that. On its road to the finals, they made waves by shocking the heavily favored home team, Germany, 1-0 in the quarterfinals. Then they beat Sweden, 3-1 in the semis to arrange the historic finals match against two time champion US team.

Back in Japan, the Japanese people celebrated with utmost jubilance and joy, tv footages shown and special newspapers edition printed and given to people. For a while, it gave them inspiration and happiness, with the tsunami disaster occupying their minds for quite a while now. That was the pressure these Japanese ladies carried with them when they flew to Germany to participate in this 16-nation women's tournament. Before their game against Germany, the players were reportedly shown "images of the destruction to remind them of their higher purpose." Two of the players are actually working with the operator of the failed nuclear plants, TEPCO. And after every game, the players ran around the oval with  a banner that read, "To Our Friends Around The World- Thank You For Your Support." Such great gesture.

Last week, after our German visitor told me that Japan upset Germany, I've been glued to ESPN and Star Sports hoping to watch their telecast. Then, after hearing from CNN the results of the semis, I kept on switching to ESPN and Star Sports again and searched in the Internet for their final schedule. All I watched was another big event, the British Golf Open, which also made history, having its oldest champion for many years in the person of 42 year old Irishman, Darren Clarke. But this is another story.

Related story: Japan Shocks The World, Wins World Cup

Monday, July 18, 2011

Marquez-Ramos: The Tune-up Fight That Never Was

This was the Juan Manuel Marquez - Likar Ramos fight yesterday. Marquez is already starting to prepare for his much awaited 3rd fight against our Pambansang Kamao, the pound for pound king, Manny Pacquiao, after drawing the first fight and losing on a close split decision on the 2nd.

After  some inactivity for some time, Marquez camp felt he needs a tune up fight before the November big showdown. So they looked for a fighter that could perhaps remove some rustiness due to the long lay-off. And they found this Colombian young fighter. And we, knowing the closeness of the first two fights between Pacquiao and Marquez wanted to see Marquez now to assess his condition.

We were  duped. The fight was a joke. And the Marquez camp didn't get what they wanted. With only one  big right, Ramos immediately fell down in deep slumber with over a minute left in the first round. Why, he even lay on the floor longer that the actual fight.

They chose not just a "lightweight," they chose a pasty. My kids were more amused looking at him unconscious from just that one punch. And to think that Marquez is not even noted as a knock-out artist. Known more as an effective counter puncher, he wins more on decisions and  knocks out his opponents only in later rounds.

Understandably, tune-up matches, being warm up fights, "easy" fighters are chosen to make sure of victory. This time however, they chose a lemon. And it just didn't serve their purpose. The audience was cheated.

The last time I remember a fight where the champion chose a wrong guy as his warm-up opponent was many years ago, in the early 2000's. The challenger was injured and could not be available for the fight, an under card to big, big fight in the US. So his handlers chose a relatively "unknown and relatively easy" boxer from the Philippines on short notice as replacement. The champion was a feared African fighter named Ledho Ledwaba.

The result? The unknown boxer from the Philippines knock him out cold in the 5th round to unexpectedly wrest the crown. The name of that Filipino boxer was Manny Pacquiao. The rest, they say, is history.

Check out Boxing Scene for the brief footage.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

UAAP Newsbreakers

This year's UAAP basketball tourney is becoming interesting; true to experts opinion. Here are two reasons why, so far.

The UP Fighting Maroons scored a mini shocker in its opening game yesterday. It  finally remembered how to win after defeating the UE Red Warriors, 69-61. With new coach Ricky Dandan, UP finally ended its 18 game losing streak, dating back to its last victory on august 22, 2009, an 83-78 victory over the De La Salle Green Archers. Last year, it went scoreless. Its last win over the UE Red Warriors was still in 2006. After losing all its game last season, indeed there is no way but up for the Maroons.

I studied high school at UP Iloilo, now UP Visayas. So, my heart still goes with UP. We used to cheer, push on UP on going to win"; it's alright, its okay, we'll gonna beat them anyway, etc. Even during that time, UP has always been the cellar dweller. Except in 1986 when PBA stars Benjie Paras, Ronnie Magsanoc, Eric Altamirano,and co. ended UP's long, long drought by winning the championship (This was the time that my wife was in UP Diliman, so she had a really wonderful and memorable UAAP experience). Oh, UP Beloved! Incidentally, next week, we are going home to UP Visayas to attend our alumni homecoming where we are Jubilarians.

The other newsbreaker yesterday was the victory of the UST Tigers over the rejuvenated NU Bulldogs in overtime. The highlight of the game was the match up of the celebrated rookie Bulldog Bobby Ray Parks against UST's guard Jeric Teng. Suddenly, UST becomes now not just a growling tiger in the midst. Parks performance, 16 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists, and 3 blocks was more than just a respectable performance. The Bobby Parks-Jeric Teng one-on-one tussle reminds us of those one on one encounter in the PBA of  Jeric's father, Alvin,the "Robocop" defensive specialist with the San Miguel team against Bobby Ray's father, 7-time Best Import Awardee Bobby Parks. It's all in the family it seems.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Tale of Two Rookies

They are outstanding players from the junior ranks of basketball and tennis.

The first one has a sports pedigree; a father who was a former UE Red Warrior and a PBA star and a mother who was a former varsity volleyball player at UST. He was schooled in an elite school down Katipunaan Road in Quezon City. Surely, he was honed by formal training sessions. The other boy's background is almost a complete opposite. He comes from a poor family in far away Iligan City in Mindanao. His father works as a janitor with National Power Corporation (NPC)  in Ditucalan, Lanao del Norte, near the famous Maria Cristina Falls. A "pulot boy" (ball retriever), he was discovered playing tennis using a soft drink bottle as his racket.( I know the place. In the early 80's when we were first hooked to tennis, we would travel here, some 20-30 minutes from the city proper, to play in these courts. Our pulot boys then were using flat wood as racket until we lent or gave them real rackets. In a short time, they become unbeatable.)

Keifer Ravena, the son of fomer PBA star Ferdinand "Bong" Ravena of the Purefoods Hotdogs team was recently promoted to the Ateneo Blue Eagles Senior basketball team after graduation from high school this year. He was expected to be a vital cog in their quest for a 4-peat championship. As a Junior stand-out, he led the Eaglets to 3 consecutive championships in the UAAP. He was also a mainstay of several national junior teams that competed in several international tournaments. We watched the UAAP opening basketball games  last Sunday, staying at the Big Dome for the 2nd game where Keifer would play. All told, his very first game as a senior was a flop, a disappointment. He was uncharacteristically scoreless on a single field goal attempt. I really don't know what happened. Coach Norman Black said he switched him to the No. 2 guard position which he was not comfortable. Whatever. Rookie jitters. For sure, he'll bounce back after this.

The other rookie is Jeson Patrombon, the pride of Iligan City. After his discovery by his ever supportive coach, mentor, etc, Manny Tecson, he was brought to Manila and trained under the Jalosjos Alabang Tennis Club. This is the tennis club founded, financed and supported by former Zamboanga congressman Romy Jalosjos while he was in jailed Muntinlupa Bilibid prison. After dominating the local juniors tournaments, he campaigned abroad, earning him the top ten ranking at the end of last year. Significantly, he played in all the majors, Austaralian, US, French and the latest Wimbledon. Last week,for the first time, he formally joined the Philippine Mens team that played against New Zealand in their Asia-Oceana Davis Cup tie. Jeson played in the reverse singles in the last day of the tie ( by that time, the Philippines already lost the tie, 0-3). He won the first set but lost the next two sets and the match.

To these young rookies, their first game was their baptism of fire. But they hold a lot of promise. Watch them from now on. They'll soon dominate the headlines.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Is Yao Ming Retiring?

This is the big news yesterday in the NBA off season. Accordingly, it was reported by the NBA News Website itself. Here, Manila Bulletin carried it in their front page news. I could just imagine how this news will be treated in China.

Yao Ming is the most popular Chinese basketball player ever and perhaps the most celebrated Chinese athlete in terms of worldwide impact and recognition. He is the face of China sports, basketball in particular. His entry to the NBA created a massive popularity of the NBA and basketball in China.

In his debut game as a top draft pick of the Houston Rockets in 2002, it was reported that hundreds of millions of Chinese basketball fans watched the game in television in China alone.China pinned down its hopes of barging into the world's basketball elite under his 7'6" tall frame, sweet shooting touch and agility rarely found in such big men. He was consistently voted as the starting center of the West All Star Team, outvoting even the other great big man in his prime days then, Shaquille O'Neal, thanks to his multitude of Chinese voting fans. Remember the words of NBA great now tv commentator Charles Barkley? ("I'll kiss his b--- if he can score in...") Well, Yao Ming scored in double figures and stood on his own against Shaq... Barkley ate his words.    

Yao's entry to the NBA had been delayed. China basketball had been refusing to release him from his local team, the Shanghai Sharks, to the Rockets. It was reported though they finally released him as a show of goodwill as part of China;s efforts to win the right to host the 2008 Summer Olympics. True or not this news maybe, Yao Ming's stint in the NBA far outweigh expectations.

These past seasons, Yao has been hobbled by foot injuries. It is unfortunate that he will leave still at the peak of his career. His 5 year USD 76million contract with the rockets has just expired in June. Add to that his numerous endorsement deals and Yao Ming will retire financially comfortable.

The UAAP Cage War Has Begun

The rains came, so did the crowds. We, my wife and two kids, came too to watch the opening of the UAAP Basketball Season 74. First game: La Salle vs. FEU. As we prepared to go, our first problem came: what color we will wear. My wife's animo is green, having finished her elementary and high school in La Salle Iligan (college was in UP Diliman). Me and my 2 kids go for FEU. No affinity whatsoever (I studied college in Iloilo) except that we just root for their players. We first sat with the green crowd but later, at my sons' request (they actually wore light green shirts), we transferred to a neutral corner near the FEU's yellow crowd where they were  free to cheer for the Tamaraws.

The game was a close one until late in the 3rd quarter when the Tamaraws started to pull away, courtesy of the 3-point clutch shooting of ace guard, RR Garcia. From there on to the end, the Archers never really threatened seriously. The Tamaraws fielded their reliable veterans, RR Garcia, Aldrich Ramos, Cawaling, Terence Romeo, Bringas and co. La Salle fielded a mix of new and old, putting more height in their new big men ,Torres and Von Opstal. But clearly, they were  outmatched in crunch time.

Where was La Salle's vaunted stiffling pressure defense? Instead, they opted to the man zone. Curiously, they lacked or had no firepower outside. Yet coach Dindo Pumaren fielded 3-point artist Sam Marata only midway in the 3rd quarter. He came  cold, though he managed a three. In the closing minutes, he was fielded back but it was too late.

The final score: 74-65. La Salle also lost in two other fronts; the cheering crowd and the pep squad in the intermission. They lacked intensity in their yells and cheers, even when the game was still close. The Animo was lacking. They were outcheered, outshouted and outperformed by the yellow and green crowd of FEU, which included showbiz personality Vice Ganda, an FEU alumnus who reportedly played basketball in those days of yore. In the intermission, FEU performed stunning acrobatic and gymnastics routines compared to La Salle's plain calisthenics performance.

If I could write a headline story out of it, I would report: Tamaraws Gore Archers! But oh yes, my wife still stood and sang her La Salle Alma Mater song.

We stayed a little while to watch the Ateneo-Adamson main game I just wanted to take a look at these two teams touted as contenders for the championship. Most especially I wanted to see the much talked about players of Ateneo, the 7" Greg Slaughter and the fancied rookie Keifer Ravena. We left at the half after the pep squad presentation with Ateneo laeading by a small margin.  Later we learned that the Blue Eagles defeated the Falcons in a low scoring game, 55-51.

It's too early yet. In fact it has just begun. But my crystal ball says it's gonna be a repeat of last year: Ateneo vs. FEU in the finals.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Saturday's Sports Special

The local sports scene is buzzing.

From the Azkals date last week to a full load weekend. The biggest and most talked about is the UAAP Season 74 opening today at the Marikina Sports Complex. An innovation which is a first in its history, it will open a la Olympic style with some 3,700 athletes from all 15 sports in the calendar expected to march.

Ateneo is this year's host and  Blue Eagle and PBA legend Olsen Racela will carry the torch and light the cauldron signalling the opening of the games. In the real Olympics, the identity of the who will do this lighting honor is the best kept secret of the opening and is only known or revealed when his moment of glory comes.

Tomorrow, the most prestigious event, basketball unfolds at the Big Dome and expect a full raucous crowd in attendance of the double header; FEU vs. La Salle in the 1st game and defending champion Ateneo against Adamson in the 2nd game.

News from Down Under of the Philippines
New Zealand Davis Cup tie looks bleak. Our Cecil mamiit and Ruben Gonzales lost their opening singles matches putting the Philippines i a 0-2 deep hole. Gonzales succumbed in 3 straight sets, 6-4,6-4,6-4 while our top netter Mamiit put in a good fight in 5 sets, 6-7(6), 7-6(4), 6-3, 4-6, 6-3. They now face the tough task of winning their crucial doubles match today and win the reverse singles matches tomorrow.

As a trivia, do you know that Cecil Mamiit is currently the hitting partner of the darling of women's tennis, my idol, Maria Sharapova?

Friday, July 8, 2011

Davis Cup: Philippines vs. New Zealand

Today, our tennis national team embarks on its own journey, for country, for tennis, and perhaps for recognition they long deserved.

It's Philippines vs. New Zealand in the 1st round of the Asia-Oceana Davis Cup Zone to be held down under in the "land of the sheep." The Davis Cup is the Olympics of tennis where even top tennis stars, like Rafael Nadal, play for their country.

Victory over the Kiwis will send our team to the next stage of the elimination while a loss will put it in a delicate knock-out stage with Chinese-Taipei. Another loss would relegate the team from the higher seeding of Group I to Group II.

In recent years, our players struggled but successful in placing our standing one notch higher to Group I, so this game is crucial. Our team will be bannered once again by Fil-Am Cecil Mamiit, who since 2005, was at the forefront of our tennis victories, not only in Davis Cup competitions but also in other international events like Asian and SEA Games.

During his prime years in the US, Mamiit was considered one of the rising young top stars of the US and holds the distinction of having once beaten tennis great Andrei Agassi in a US tournament. Our strength will somehow be dampened by the absence of veteran doubles specialist, Fil-Am Treat Huey who is competing in a US tournament, hoping to improve on his world rankings.

The rest of the team is composed of the most veteran Johnny Arcilla, journeyman Ruben Gonzales, and teenage sensation pride of Iligan City, Jeson Patrombon, the country's No.1 Juniors champion and currently ranked in the top 10 of the junior world rankings.

The Kiwis, on the other hand, have a revamped line-up, putting in more younger players in their team. If it's any consolation, the Philippines holds a 4-1 head to head advantage, the last two victories scored just in recent years.

Go go go Team Philippines!    

Post Wimbledon 2011: Djokovich on Top of the World

Forty-nine (49) won matches or so this year; one of the longest winning streak in tennis history. Broken only once during the French Open by another superstar legend Roger Federer in the semis.

It started in December, when Novak Djokovich, alongside my fading idol Ana Ivanovic gave Serbia a Christmas gift - the Fed Cup title. Then a 2nd Australian Open title and after that, more titles in minor but established ATP masters tournaments; Indian Wells, Miami, Madrid, and Rome.

The last two tourneys were significant; these were clay courts serving as tune up tourneys to Roland Garros. And his victim? Why, the king of clay himself, Rafa Nadal. Of course, where it mattered most, the French Open, Federer beat Djoko in the semis, for a final date with Nadal. and Nadal indeed redeemed himself and claimed his 6th (or was it 7th?) French Open title, equalling Bjorn Bjorg's wins. Then Nole, as he is sometimes called, snatched the No. 1 ranking from Nadal again after beating Frenchman Jo-Wilfred Tsonga in the semis. Win or lose in the finals, he'll still be No.1 but he punctuated his ascendancy to the tennis throne by indeed winning his first ever Wimbledon title, also a first for Serbia at the expense again of Nadal. It was a dream come true for he considers Wimbledon his most favorite tournament. No wonder, he ate a sample of Wimbledon grass in celebration. He has finally arrived, a long way from his childhood days when he, together with Ana Ivanovic again, were training just as the war in their country was going on.

After Federer, my bet has always been Djokovich. Just as Federer seems to lose his touch when playing against old rival Rafa Nadal, I have believed that it's only Djoko who has what it takes to beat Nadal, in any court, much more in Wimbledon. Not Murray whose shoulder carries a big weight of an aspiring British kingdom who haven't seen a  British champion  in 75 years. And to think that it was the Englishmen who started the game of tennis.Not even the presence of Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton and well even the Royal sister, Pippa, could snap this British title drought.Stroke for stroke, power for power, agility and footwork, serve for serve, shot variety and all, Djokovich is indeed destined to become a champion.

And perhaps add to that, his sense of humor, when in lighter moments, he would mimic the on court antics of his fellow players, notably Sharapova, Nadal, and tennis legend now TV commentator, the explosive John McEnroe. His time has come. And the scene of his family, his parents and two brothers cheering in his box and the Serbian President leaping off his seat and punching in the air in the Royal Box is a sight that will be forever etched in memory.