MANILA, Philippines - There’s new hope for struggling Philippine tennis and it’s riding on the shoulders of 14-year-old Alberto “AJ” Lim Jr.
Currently ranked No. 2 in the world in the 14-under bracket, AJ has a lot to look forward to after hooking up with the elite L’Academie de Tennis based in Florida.
AJ has had a great stint the past couple of years. In 2011, he became the first Filipino to reach the finals of the Junior Orange Bowl event in Florida.
The Filipino had a great run against players taller and bigger than him. He stunned the second and fifth seeds but lost to top-seeded Russian Artem Dubrivny.
AJ caught the eyes of many, and he went on a two-year tennis program with the TAPF Academy. Now he’s with the LAT Academy, under a new coach, Ollie Townsend.
There were other offers. But AJ chose the LAT Academy.
“He is now ranked No. 175 in the ITF junior rankings. Now, can I get him there (Top 10) by the time he’s 17 or 18? I could say that very easily,” said Townsend.
The 46-year-old coach said there are 18 players in the academy right now. But unlike AJ, the rest of the players “pay their bills.”
AJ said he’s excited with what’s going on.
“I will just do my best here because I know I’m still improving and developing as a player,” said AJ, the only Filipino in the main draw of the 25th Mitsubishi Lancer International Junior Tennis Championship which fires off today at the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex.
Next week, he will also see action in the $15,000 ITF Philippine Futures at the same venue.
Life will change for the former student of Letran. He will move to the United States, under the guidance of Filipino brothers Patrick and Lawrence Carpio, owners of the LAT Academy.
AJ was presented to the media yesterday at the Philippine Sports Commission conference room, together with Patrick Carpio and Townsend.
AJ’s brother, Numero “Uno” Lim, a former age-group standout himself and now Manila councilor, was also present, as well as PSC commissioner Buddy Andrada, the former chief of the Philippine Lawn Tennis Association, and Philta official Romeo Magat.
The PSC, headed by chairman Richie Garcia, has offered AJ a P2 million grant for the next three years, but since AJ won’t spend a single centavo at LAT, he had to decline.
The PSC offer stands – if needed in the future.
“We really appreciate it that despite the limitations we experienced then (as players), we see the effort now from Philta and the PSC. What they’re doing for AJ is amazing,” said Numero Lim.
“These guys at LAT have committed to support AJ all the way and that makes it easier for us,” added the young Manila councilor.
There’s no price tag or timetable on AJ’s stint with the LAT Academy.
“The ultimate cost is no factor. This is a multi-year undertaking for us – the academy, the Carpio family and AJ. We have made a commitment that has no expiration date,” said Townsend.
Patrick Carpio, for his part, said AJ will be under their supervision at all times.
“We will make sure AJ is training properly and growing up as a young man – physically and mentally,” he said.
Before the press conference concluded, Townsend was asked if they would give AJ the chance to represent the Philippines in international competitions like the SEA Games, Asian Games or Davis Cup.
“AJ playing for the pride of the nation takes precedence over the ATF, the ATP or the Futures. We cannot rob the Philippines of its future tennis players,” said Townsend.
“Whatever our schedules for the ITF or pros are, we can easily withdraw from any of those so he can play under the Philippine fag,” he added.
“It’s good that we have your commitment on that,” said Magat.