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Friday, October 22, 2021
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Match Point

Tennis is unlike any other sport on earth. It’s one on one. No coaches are allowed to sit beside you and whisper suggestions. You only use one racket but you have six extra in your bag.

The surfaces differ. There’s grass. There’s clay. There’s hard-court. You play indoors. You play outdoors. Or, you can start playing outdoors and, when the rain starts dripping, the roof closes and you resume indoors.

The scoring in tennis is weird. There’s “love.” There’s “15,” and “30” and “40.” When you’re at 40-all, it’s called Deuce.

Tennis was said to have originated from the French in the 12th century. It was then a handball game called “jeu de paume.” In English, that’s “game of the palm.” This evolved into using wooden rackets. The original surface was grass; thus, the name “lawn tennis” (which is still used today, particularly by the British).

Having played tennis for the past 35 years, do I consider the game easy or difficult to learn? If you’re naturally athletic, tennis is uncomplicated. Once you’re taught the basics of the spin, follow-through, footwork and many more, it’s quick to become good.

But surely, tennis is not as effortless to learn as, say, badminton or ping-pong. With tennis, there are multiple technicalities. There’s the forehand, backhand, volley, serve; you have the slice, topspin, overhead and drop shots.

US OPEN. In New York City today, the world feels normal. Tens of thousands of fans have crowded Flushing Meadows, majority without masks. (They have a ruling: no proof of vaccination, no entry.)

This tournament is historic for many reasons. One, it’s the full return of the spectators (compared to last year’s empty stands). Two, a couple of guys named Rafa and Roger are in Spain and Switzerland watching Netflix. Three, Serena Williams is also absent. Four, you have names like Zverev and Medvedev who have a big chance to win the title. Fifth, a potential Grand Slam—all four majors this 2021—awaits Novak Djokovic if he wins next Sunday.

Yesterday, a pair of 18-year-olds created major upsets. Carlos Alcaraz of Spain defeated Stefanos Tsitsipas in a fifth set tiebreak. In the next match, Naomi Osaka was serving to win the match before losing to Leylah Fernandez.

Leylah Annie Fernandez is Pinay. Well, half-Filipino.

“I’m a bit of a mix,” said the 5-foot-6 lefthander who’ll turn 19 tomorrow. “I was born in Montreal. I’m Canadian. My father is from Ecuador and my mother is from Toronto but her parents are Filipinos. I’m happy to be Ecuadorian and Filipino.”

I watched portions of Leylah’s match against Osaka yesterday and, when the Japanese broke her to serve for the match at 6-5 in the second set, I thought it was game over. Next thing I knew, Fernandez was leading in the third set and won it, 6-4.

Which brings us to the darling of Philippine tennis: Alexandra Eala. Only 16, she is the No. 2 seed in the Girls’ Juniors in a field of 48 girls (aged 18 and younger). The hope is that Leylah’s triumph will motivate Alex to win her first major singles junior title.


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