The National University Bulldogs made a stronger case to retain last year’s crown, closing the first round of men’s tennis action by nailing four hard-fought matches and dropping only one to the University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons, Saturday morning at the Rizal Sports Complex.
NU’s Leander Lazaro took the first set against UP’s Vince Russel Salas, 6-4, but encountered a massive counterattack from his component in the second. Though he struggled to create holes in his opponent’s side of net in the first set, Santos returned to the lawn with renewed composure, forcing a 5-5 tie after a late start. But it was Lazaro who emerged victorious, keeping steady despite a more aggressive barrage from Salas to take two straight points and the 7-5 victory for the second set.
On the adjacent lawn, another heated matchup was brewing. The opening set between NU’s Fritz Verdad and UP’s Angelo Esguera saw the typically steady-handed Verdad resort to more erratic strikes to hold out for a 7-5 win. The second set was another back-and-forth affair, with the NU and State U netters trading points en route to another 5-all deadlock. This time around, it was Esguera who held out for the crucial seventh point, riding out a barrage from the visibly-rattled Verdad for the 7-6 win. The third, however, was all NU. A more composed Verdad took control early on, forcing his opponent into awkward strides on the other side of the net to complete a quick 6-1 win.
In the first doubles encounter, NU’s Juan Gabriel Pena and Al Madrid took a 6-4 win in the first set, before finding themselves engaged in a back-and-forth affair with UP’s Joshua Miranda and Romnee Joseph. While the UP struggled to keep pace with the quicker NU netters in the first set, they were able to readjust and turn back their opponent’s hard hits. Following the 5-5 deadlock, it was the Bulldogs, however, who got to the crucial seventh point, riding out a late flurry of strong swats to complete the 7-6 win.
The second doubles matchup was another tight contest. The NU duo of Allen Manlangit and Francis Alcantara took the first set 6-2 over UP’s Gab Gutierrez and Rey Mariano, but faced a resurgent Maroon squad in the second set. The Maroons’ renewed efforts won them the 5-5 deadlock and a 7-5 victory for the set. Nevertheless, they were unable to keep momentum, and buckling from the second set’s vigorous resurgence, failed to keep their composure against the steady-paced NU side. The Bulldogs were able to ride their way through a weaker display from the Maroons, taking another 6-2 set win in the tiebreaker.
The Maroons’ only win for the afternoon came courtesy of Andrew Cano, who took the first set 6-4 against NU youngster Dheo Talayatod. The Bulldog staged a resurgence in the second set, taking advantage of a tired Cano to hold on for a 6-1 win. But the third set went to Cano, who regained the steady pacing he displayed in the opening set to secure a 6-2 win.
The defending champions close the first round with a resounding 5-0 slate. The Maroons, on the other hand, sit at 3-2 at the end of the first round.