Capping another impressive elimination-round performance, the reigning champions National University Bulldogs held off the vastly-improved Ateneo de Manila University Blue Netters, 3-2,Wednesday at the Rizal Memorial Tennis Center.
It was just another day at the office for the Bulldogs — or, at least, for graduating senior Leander Lazaro. The former Most Valuable Player easily took care of his first singles match against Ateneo rookie Marcen Gonzales, 6-1 6-2. Lazaro managed to consolidate his breaks on the Gonzales serve to eventually seal his own elimination-round sweep.
The formidable duo of Jigo Peña and Al Madrio then doubled the advantage for Bustillos-based team with a similar drubbing against Luke Flores and Johann Exconde. Peña and Madrio took the opening doubles match as they executed better both on serve and on reception.
In the following singles matches, Ateneo threatened to put an end to the Bulldogs’ winning streak as they clinched the other two singles matches through the efforts of the Canlas brothers, Ino and Iyo. The younger Iyo shrugged off an opening set loss to Dheo Talatayd in the second singles match. The sophomore clinched the match, 3-6 6-3 6-4.
His elder brother, Ino, on the other hand, subdued reigning MVP Fritz Verdad in two exciting sets, 6-4 6-2. The third-year Atenean frustrated last year’s top player with powerful returns, forcing the latter to commit errors. With a calmer disposition in the match, Ino Canlas did not only deliver Verdad’s first-ever loss in the season, but also levelled the tie for Ateneo.
It was up to the other doubles pairs for either team to dispute the tie victory. In the end, the tandem from the Blue-and-Gold side emerged victorious. Allen Manlangit and Francis Alcantara clinched a morale-boosting win over Ateneans AJ Rivero and Erj Gatdula. Manlangit and Alcantara held on to a solitary break advantage in either sets of the deciding doubles match, 7-5 7-5, to send the Bulldogs to the Finals armed with a twice-to-beat bonus.
This victory of defending champions NU marked their 43rd consecutive win, going back to UAAP Season 75. Ateneo, with the results from the last tie of the day, ended their Cinderella run at fourth with a 5-5 win-loss record.
Tie 1 of the UAAP men’s tennis Final between reigning three-time champions NU and the University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons happens on Saturday at 8am. The Bulldogs, by virtue of another season sweep, carry the twice-to-beat edge. If NU win, they will clinch their fourth-straight UAAP title. Otherwise, the sudden-death tie is scheduled on the following day, Sunday, also at 8am.