Just when it mattered, the title-hungry Ateneo de Manila University men’s tennis team delivered.
The Blue Eagles completed a comeback and doomed neighbors University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons to a winless first round campaign, 3-2, Sunday at the Rizal Memorial Tennis Center.
The day started well for the Fighting Maroons as despite the strong challenge of the league’s lone rookie in Ateneo’s Bong Gonzales, team captain and fourth-year standout Joshua Cano was able to pull through with a 6-4, 7-5 win in the second singles match. The two-time UAAP runner-up won the battle of returns as the crucial rallies went his way by way of winner of Gonzales error.
Sophomore Joel Atienza made a good account of himself at the start of the first singles match, but could not make it going against the seasoned Ateneo skipper Ino Canlas.
In Court 1, however, an inspired duo of Vincent Alanis and Auden Pagduganan pulled off what may be their best UAAP match. The Maroons played toe-to-toe against the strong tandem of Julian Dayrit and Anton Punzalan in all the rallies played, and came up as victors, 6-3, 7-5, to double UP’s lead.
Canlas had to scrape past his UP opponent in the first set and won it at 7-5 after overhauling a 3-5 hole and surviving some problems in his service game. Frustrations crept in for Atienza in the second set as the fifth-year Atenean’s composure showed up and got one back for the other side of Katipunan.
From there, there was not turning back for the Blue and White.
Erj Gatdula and Luke Flores took the opening set of the second doubles match at 6-3, even as Marcen Gonzales battled hard to a 6-4 first-set win in the third singles match.
The elder Gonzales continued to dominated Kyle Joseph and finished the match for an equalizer at 6-0, leaving the tie in the hands of Gatdula and Flores.
Leaning on their net game and capitalizing on service problems from the Maroons, Flores and Gatdula slowly closed out the match and eventually took the second set in an ultimate of decisions, 7-3 on the tiebreak.
For Canlas, it was a huge morale boost for Ateneo to finish the first half of the eliminations with two straight victories.
“Definitely it is a big help. We started the season kind of slow, kind of we weren’t feeling the court, we weren’t feeling our game,” he said. “Good thing we got it during our UST game and this game. Especially for our doubles. They have been struggling to get some wins.”
Nonetheless, for the graduating singles specialist and the rest of the Ateneo squad, it is far from over. “It is back to work in training,” he shared. “We’ll take it one game at a time. It is about trusting your teammates, trusting your coaches.”
The 2-2 Blue Eagles will take try to build on the streak when they face UST Male Tennisters (2-2) at 8am on Saturday, February 24. Later that day at noon, the Fighting Maroons (0-4) will attempt to snag first win when they face the DLSU Green Tennisters (2-2).
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