MANILA – Despite not being in full force this year, the Philippine tennis team remains confident about its potential to make waves in the 32nd Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in Cambodia.
The national team is down to four men and four women for the Phnom Penh Games, coming from last year’s five male and four female players who competed in the 31st edition of the biennial meet in Hanoi.
“Without Alex Eala, without Jeson Patrombon who played very good, with very good results last SEA Games in Vietnam, I am still very optimistic with the team that we have,” national coach Chris Cuarto told ABS-CBN News on Monday during the opening day of the 1st Metro Manila Open at the Philippine Columbian Association Complex in Plaza Dilao.
Also missing from the Philippine team is 2016 Wimbledon men’s doubles semifinalist Treat Huey, who bagged the 2022 SEA Games men’s doubles gold with Ruben Gonzales.
Patrombon and Francis Casey “Niño” Alcantara settled for silver in the all-Filipino final in Hanoi, which is a reversal of fortune from their 2019 gold triumph in Manila over the Huey-Gonzales duo.
Reigning US Open Juniors singles winner Eala, whose professional tour schedule conflicted with the regional sporting event, marked her debut in Hanoi with bronze results in singles and mixed doubles alongside Huey.
The Philippine aces took home two more bronze medals in the 2022 men’s team event and women’s team competition.
The women’s squad members, mentored by national coach Czarina Mae Arevalo, are set to return to SEA Games action starting this week with the aim of becoming medalists again.
All of them have won in the women’s team event: Khim Iglupas with the silver in Singapore, Marian Capadocia with the bronze in Jakarta and Hanoi, and Shaira Hope Rivera and Jenaila Rose Prulla with the bronze from Hanoi.
On the men’s side, Gonzales and Alcantara will reprise their national team duties with fellow Hanoi team bronze medalist Jed Olivarez and SEA Games first-timer Miko Eala, the older brother of Alex.
Olivarez plays in the UAAP for Ateneo de Manila University, while Miko sees action in the United States NCAA Division 1 for Pennsylvania State University.
“It’s a mix of the veterans and the younger ones. So I think it’s a good combination that we have the veterans teaching and supporting the younger players as well,” noted Cuarto.
“Maybe for now, we might field in Francis and Ruben for doubles and hopefully, they also find their way to win the gold,” Cuarto said of the 2017 Kuala Lumpur men’s doubles silver medalists.
Alcantara, who won his sixth ITF men’s doubles title in March at the M25 New Delhi with Pruchya Isaro of Thailand, is upbeat about his team’s chances in Cambodia.
“We are very confident coming into the SEA Games competitions, as we have been competing in strong international tournaments since last year, thanks to Jean Henri Lhuillier and Cebuana Lhuillier. We will give our best to win a medal, hopefully the gold,” Alcantara said in a statement, pertaining to his and Gonzales’ overseas stints.
Eight-time ATP Challenger doubles champion Gonzales also had a strong start this season, posting runner-up results in Cleveland in the US and Manama in Bahrain, plus semifinal finishes in Tenerife, Spain and San Luis Potosí, Mexico.
Lhuillier, president of the non-profit Unified Tennis Philippines, highlighted the strengths of the “very good” men’s team.
“I think the team is very capable of delivering medals, especially in the team event, as well as doubles, which is the specialty of both Ruben and Niño,” commented the long-time tennis patron.
The 32nd SEA Games will run from May 5 to 17.
Seven tennis events are slated from May 6 to 14 at the Morodok Techo National Stadium: Tennis Arena in Phnom Penh. These are men’s singles, men’s doubles, men’s team, women’s singles, women’s doubles, women’s team, and mixed doubles.
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