LONDON – The remaining two Philippine national table-tennis team players that made it to the quarterfinal stage of the 2013 World Championship of Ping Pong (WCPP) have been eliminated.
Richard Gonzales and Joseph Cruz were unable to defeat their respective opponents on January 6 during the second day of competition held at Alexandra Palace in north London.
Gonzales was beaten 2-sets-to-1 by former Olympic silver medalist Ilija Lupulesku of the United States in a hotly contested encounter. The final scores of that game were 12-10, 7-11, and 11-9.
Cruz, on the other hand, was knocked out by Russia's Maxim Shmyrev, who beat the Filipino from Quezon City in two straight sets; 11-8, 11-5.
Shmyrev eventually went on to defend his WCPP crown and claim the $20,000 prize when he defeated Sule Olaleye of Nigeria in the final, 3-sets-to-2.
Despite being knocked out of the competition in the quarterfinals, Cruz was able to look on the bright side.
"I'm very, very happy because we travelled from very, very far," he said.
"Yesterday and today was fantastic, it was really fun playing those guys. They are tough and it's cool because we are actually enhancing our game," Cruz added.
Unlike in the 2012 US Open where the Philippines bagged seven gold medals, the Pinoys found the going tougher in the UK.
"Actually we were not expecting that they are going to be like this, very good players.
"When we were in the US Open we were like China in that competition, but here it's a totally different story. They are really tough, they are really good. I think they already adopted the liha racket over the normal one."
The liha racket, commonly used in the Philippines, is hard with a sandpaper surface. All players were required to use the same equipment at the WCPP.
Gonzales and Cruz, who received $3,000 each for reaching the last eight of the competition, were the remaining hopes for the Philippine team, which consisted of seven players.
The other members were Peter Cua, Edwin Suarez, Winston Jimenez, Sherwin Remata and Louie Pineda, who was the youngest entrant in the competition at 17 years old.
This year's competition attracted 64 players from 18 countries including France, the Netherlands, Hungary and Lithuania.
The Philippines was the only nation from Asia to accept the invitation. They said they jumped at the chance, particularly because they knew they'd be using liha rackets.
Table tennis rackets in the modern game have evolved into sponge-covered bats with small pimples. These bumps increase spin and speed up the game, which results in shorter rallies, thus leading to claims the sport has become more boring for spectators.
Peter Cua, who himself was knocked out of the WCPP by Shymrev in the last 32 match, explains the Philippines has a table tennis tradition that dates back to World War II, introduced by the Americans.
He told ABS-CBN Europe the sport of liha continues to thrive in underground tournaments in the Philippines, usually found in slum areas. He adds it survives because it does not cost much to own a sandpapered racket.
Cua feels Filipinos have an advantage in international competitions like the WCPP because they have had lots of practice.
"Actually, we're so backward that even up to now we're playing the old table tennis, which is the liha," he joked.
Team member Edwin Suarez is a fish vender from Davao. He has been playing liha almost 12 years.
"May table po sa bagsakan namin sa palenke, doon kami naglalaro. Marami po kami doon. May tournament kami doon, nag-umpisa sa tournament," he said.
"Marami po kaming kababayan doon, katulad na rin mga hirap," Suarez added.
Aside from a few private donations before the tournament, the Philippine team's members funded the majority of their expenses for the trip to the UK.
Team coach Oscar Yoshihiro Santelices, also a Professor at the University of the Philippines Diliman, hopes their successes will not go unnoticed.
"We really want to prove to them that we can really excel and we can be one of the best in the world in terms of sandpaper, or liha as we call it," Santelices said.
"If we get the much needed support then we can bring honors for the country," he added.
The Philippine team is set to compete at the 2013 US Open taking place next June.