Tennis stars Nadal, Raonic see hope for Filipinos through the sport

LOOKING FORWARD. Rafa Nadal (L) and Milos Raonic (R) discussed the future of tennis in the Philippines during the IPTL. File photos by Josh Albelda/Rappler

LOOKING FORWARD. Rafa Nadal (L) and Milos Raonic (R) discussed the future of tennis in the Philippines during the IPTL.

File photos by Josh Albelda/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – While it’s clear the forever Pinoy favorite game of basketball and growing sport of volleyball remain the darlings of Philippine sports, what also became apparent during the latest Manila Leg of the International Premier Tennis League (IPTL) this week is that tennis is starting to develop its own rabid fan base in the country.

Thousands of fans flocked to the Mall of Asia Arena from December 6-8 for the second visit of the IPTL in Manila, where many of the game’s stars like Rafael Nadal, Serena Williams, Ana Ivanovic, and others displayed their skill and talent to the delight of those in attendance.

One aspect where tennis is still far from tying the aforementioned sports - especially basketball, and maybe even boxing - is how those from the lower economic brackets can access the sport as a way to earn prestige and financial fortune.

Many professional basketball and volleyball players, and certainly a large percentage of boxers, use their respective sports as a way to get out of their tough predicaments and earn enough money for better lives.

You’ll see many basketball courts - which turn into volleyball playgrounds once you add a net - packed with students during lunch breaks or after-class hours in schools. 

But tennis courts? Those are usually found in country clubs or more luxurious private schools in the country, which is why few of the Philippines’ younger generation grow up invested in the game.

As of today, there’s not one Philippine tennis player who ranks in the top 100 rankings (singles) of the ATP. Arguably the most accomplished player with a Philippine flag next to his name in ATP rankings is Filipino-American Treat Huey, who’s ranked 33 in doubles.

Still, two of the best tennis players in the world are confident in a future where the Philippines begins to thrive in tennis, albeit with challenges along the way.

It’s expensive, and it’s not easy, and it’s not easy for everybody,” said Rafa Nadal, world no. 5, after the last day of the IPTL Manila leg. 

“That’s why it’s important to help, and that’s why the people who really have power, have possibilities, it’s important to give back something, to give opportunities to that kid who doesn’t have the possibility to travel, doesn’t have the possibility to have coaches around.”

Nadal, 29, has been a pro since 2001, making him a long-tenured student of the game. 

“Just being in the world of the sport,” he said about Filipino kids aspiring to succeed in the sport, “it’s a good atmosphere for them. It will be great values for them for the future. It’s good spirit when you are involved in a sport, so it’s so important that the people who have the possibilities really help.”

Helping is something Nadal does frequently. The 67-time title winner has put up tennis foundations in areas around Europe plus Anantapur, India, and despite Philippines not being one of them yet, he emphasized during the IPTL how Filipino kids are always welcome to join.

“I try and try with my foundation, and I think here in the Philippines, there is a lot of people that can do it, can help. I’m sure it’s happening and going to happen more.”

Canadian tennis star Milos Raonic, ranked no. 14 in the world, believes the same, and revealed that many of the game’s higher-ups during the IPTL have started developing more young tennis players with the hope of a star in the sport coming from the Philippines one day.

“Some of the owners, I believe of the team… they have involvement in tennis here in the Philippines, and they’ve sat down with us and they’ve even discussed what would be needed,” Raonic said after defeating Nadal on Tuesday.

“I think they want to see a Filipino player strive to be at the top of the game, and not just strive for that but I think give them every opportunity to do so.”

It it possible? Raonic believes so, especially with more support now brewing. 

“I think when you have that kind of support, whether it be federation, private, or something, with the right kind of mentality, hard work, and fortitude, anything’s possible,” said the 24-year-old. “You see tennis players all around the world competing at the highest levels of tennis.

“Canada wasn’t in this situation that it’s in a couple of years ago,” he added, “so a lot can be done, but at the end of the day, more than it depends on anybody else, it depends on the kid growing up and on what they can make of it.” –