The defending UAAP men’s tennis champions University of the East Red Warriors showed no signs of letting up.
Despite a huge challenge by the University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons, the Red Warriors still came up as 4-1 victors as the reigning champions inch closer to the twice-to-beat incentive in the Finals, Sunday morning at the Rizal Memorial Tennis Center.
Last year’s Most Valuable Player set the tone for the Recto-based squad after making short work of Fighting Maroons co-captain Mikko Ringia. The national team mainstay rose beyond some service game struggles to dominate the opponent who only plucked a singles service game in the match at 6-0, 6-1.
Josshua Kinaadman then doubled the lead after blanking UP skipper Joshua Cano in the second set. It was a tough first set as the frame went on serve up to the deadlock at five before the fourth-year Red Warrior broke the latter’s serve and went on to wrap up the 1-0 lead. From there, the UAAP Season 77 Rookie of the Year never looked back and took the match at 7-5, 6-0.
In the first doubles match, Elijah Arevalo and Mimo Tomacruz of UP looked poised to deny RJ Saga and Rogelio Estano their own perfect record after pocketing the first set at 6-3. Concurrently, fellow Maroons Auden Pagduganan and Vincent Alanis also cruised past Jomar Medalla and Mark Verdadero in the opener at 6-1 of the other doubles match.
Saga and Estano would not be denied, however, in the second set after trailing 3-5. The UE pair sent the frame into a tiebreak and took it at 7-3 to level the match.
Pagduganan and Alanis, on the other hand, smelled blood and closed out the match also at 6-1 to put the Diliman-based squad on board. Meanwhile, on Court 3, Red Warriors captain Rodolfo Barquin Jr. had to stop UP sophomore Joel Atienza in the first set of the third singles match also at the tiebreak.
Ultimately, it was Saga and Estano who maintained their unblemished record, mirroring their team’s own perfect record at 7-0, putting them a win away from the Finals bonus. The duo took the deciding set at 6-3.
Barquin finished his match at a more comfortable 6-2 win to end the rout.
For the fifth-year captain, it is important to keep themselves motivated and grounded. “Yung team ko iniisip ko palagi ‘yun. Kung wala kang maido-donate sa team na panalo, ‘di ba? Pressure na ‘yon. Pagdating mo sa court, importante ‘yung motivation na isipin mo palagi ‘yung team mo,” he said.
“May mga game talaga na, pagdating namin sa game, ay kaya namin. Overconfident nga,” he admitted. “Yung score sa first set didikit, tapos sa second set, tatanong ng coaches namin na, “Anong nangyari? Dapat kunin natin to.’ ‘Yun, nga, ‘yung circulation ng pag-iisip namin.”
The Red Warriors (7-0) will take on Finals opponents Ateneo de Manila University (5-2) on the final day of eliminations on Sunday at 8am. On the other hand, the Fighting Maroons (0-7) hopes to arrest their 14-tie losing skid when they take on the University of Santo Tomas (2-5) later that day at noon.