Tennis derbies and Philta

Before I got into tennis, the only derby I knew of in sports was the football variety and I know some fans hope we could have local derbies to increase the popularity of the sport. Since I got into tennis during the pandemic, I learned there’s an even more popular kind of derby, the tennis variety.

Tennis derbies, I think, is the answer to some sports fans’ favorite question—what is the second-most popular sport in the country next to basketball? I used to think it was between football and volleyball.

LEGEND. Roy Tabotabo (right) a legend in the Cebu tennis circuit, was one of the featured matches in the Moalboal tennis derby.

When I was still a beat reporter in sports almost two decades ago, tennis was one of my beats and though I regularly cover local events, I never encountered a derby. Sponsored by the Moalboal Parish Tennis Club and organized by Floro Bantilan of La Paloma, the latest tennis derby, the second since the pandemic, had entries all over Cebu—Bogo City, Toledo City, Carcar City and Pinamungajan and even from Dumaguete City. That’s despite of another derby being hosted by Alcoy and another tournament hosted by Tanjay.

During the first derby last year, I just passed by but this time, I ended up playing thrice in the first five matches. During the first match with my cousin Estoy Donozo, let’s just say the visiting team was considerate enough to reciprocate the hospitality by not beating the host, 8-0. In the second match, I played with Baraw Taculoy, the son of Glen, one of the higher-ranked players in Moalboal and a certified court jester in weekend matches. That one we won, 8-2 or was it 8-3.

I thought that was it, but in the afternoon session, there was a lull as the Class B players wanted a break before a rematch so Baraw and I got another match again. Unforgettable would be the best word to describe it, both for me and the visitors. We were up, 4-0, 6-2 and 7-3 and lost via a tiebreak and along the way, I was mentally remembering long-forgotten curse words in Ilonggo I used to utter during football matches in high school.

After the loss—and after dealing with sympathetic faces—I resumed watching and couldn’t help but think of the situation in Philippine tennis—of having the Philippine Tennis Association (Philta) suspended by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) last year and by the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) last week.

The POC, I think, only suspended Philta because it wanted to suspend the Philippine Amateur Track and Field Association. I mean, POC ignored the suspension last year because Bambol Tolentino needed the Philta vote in the election.

I was reminded of that because ITF suspended Philta because it refused to open its membership to regional clubs, the same clubs that are actively holding tennis derbies or open tournaments.

These clubs don’t need Philta, they thrive even if Philta continues to ignore them. However, Philta and Philippine tennis will really grow by leaps and bounds if it welcomes these clubs. The Philta suspension by POC will last 90 days, its suspension from ITF will last longer.

If Philta is serious in its mandate as the National Sports Association for tennis, it can start by talking to clubs that hold tennis derbies.

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