JAPAN-bound Johnny Arcilla, the country's top-ranked men's player, paid his last respects to the late Pop Sabandon at the Ecoland Phase 4 Tennis Club courts in Davao City Wednesday.

Arcilla, a native of Butuan City, is set to leave on Saturday to join the Cebuana Lhuillier-Philippine team that will face Japan in Davis Cup Group 1 Asia-Oceania next week.

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He, however, excused himself from training in Manila to play exhibition matches at Eco 4 courts to raise funds for Sabandon's burial expenses. The latter will be laid to rest on Saturday - the same day when the nationals will leave for the Davis Cup.

"I dreamt for two nights, Saturday and Sunday, that Pop and I were playing tennis. I asked permission from our coach and my teammates that I needed to come here to see my very good friend for the last time and extend whatever help I can to the family he left behind. I just can't leave without seeing him," the 30-year-old tennis ace told this writer in an interview after his singles match.

Sabandon was shot dead by an unknown gunman on Friday night while leaving the General Santos Doctors Hospital where his father-in-law was confined.

News of his sudden death shocked his family and the tennis community on Saturday morning.

Arcilla said, "He even greeted me on my birthday on February 15. Now he is gone. He was staging a comeback in tennis and was set to leave for Hong Kong on Saturday to coach there. It's just all too sudden."

He said that it was a great privilege for him to play for the fund-raiser.

"Pop was a good man, a very good player and a very good friend. We have been friends for 18 years. I have more desire to play and give my best at the Davis Cup `coz I will be playing for him," he added.

Sabandon's mother, Linda, said they were moved by the outpouring of support from their friends citing Arcilla and Toto Joven who came all the way from Manila to play for the fund-raising event.

She said, "While we cry for justice for Pop, we are also happy that the burden we have is shared by those who love him. We are very humbled and yet grateful by the generosity of Pop's friends from different parts of the country and of the world. Most of whom he had played with and against in his previous stints as a national player."

Sabandon, a former RP No. 4 and a Davis Cup veteran, is the eldest in the brood of five. His mother hails from Oroquieta City while his father, Melchor, was born in Davao City. But Sabandon was born and raised in Marawi where his mom works. He comes to Davao regulary for competition and visits his relatives. He last competed in the 1st Rhoy Laingo Memorial Age-Group Tennis Championships last December.

Sabandon left two kids, Kylila and Tonton, to his estranged wife Kristine del Rosario of General Santos City. It was the latter who invited him to pay her father a visit at the hospital before he leaves for Hong Kong.

His remains lie in state at the Eco4 courts. (MLSA)