One is a dream. Two is destiny. Three is a dynasty.
The National University (NU) Bulldogs claimed their third straight UAAP championship as they upended the resilient University of Santo Tomas (UST), 3-1. The UAAP 77 Men’s Tennis tournament ended on Saturday, February 21 at the Olivarez College Tennis Center.
UAAP 74 Rookie of the Year and UAAP 75 Most Valuable Player Leander Lazaro started the tie for the back-to-back champions against rookie Francis Lanzado. In the end, the veteran swept the newcomer in straight sets, 6-2 6-0. Lazaro started out well, breaking the very first service game of Lanzado as the Thomasian succumbed to errors early on. After NU consolidated the break of serve, Lanzado was able to hold his ensuing service game, which limited the former MVP to a few points. Lazaro then breezed through the next few games with a combination of excellent serving and winners, which caused more errors on the UST side. Lanzado fought hard in his last service game of the match and in the following game, but it was the championship experience of Lazaro that seized the win for NU.
Over at the other court, the strong tandem of Bulldogs Jigo Peña and Al Madrio dominated Francis Patiño and Joel Cabusas in the first set. The usual string net play and serving of the NU duo paved the way for the first set. After the Tiger Tennisters held the first service game, Peña and Madrio swept the next six games to win the set, 6-1. However, it was a struggle for the Bulldogs, as the two teams played down-the-wire in the fourth game of the match. It was an overhead winner by Madrio that won it for NU.
It was a different story in the next set with Patiño and Cabusas, who took early control by breaking NU’s serve in the first game. UST was able to consolidate this in the following game but not without resistance from their opponents. After a see-saw battle in the next games that pegged the count at two games all, the Tiger Tennisters gained momentum and went on to win the next games, 6-2. Frustration kicked in for the Bulldogs as UST had thwarted their strategy. The Thomasians also played well on service and manned the net diligently, barring any attack from NU.
Meanwhile, in the second singles match, reigning MVP Fritz Verdad made short work of UST team captain Bernanlou Bering. It was an all-around great game from the fourth-year veteran as he pounced on Bering in all aspects. The Tiger skipper only managed to obtain points on the scoreboard when the erstwhile solid Verdad committed errors on return and on service. After losing the first point of the seventh game, NU forced UST to commit errors that clinched the first set, 6-3.
Bering stood his ground in the following set after taking the first game and the early lead. That was his last move as Verdad swept through the next six games to win the match, 6-1. The patient play worked magic for the Bulldogs’ stalwart as he won most of the succeeding points on timely returns and winners.
Shifting back to the doubles event, Patiño and Cabusas built up their momentum in the previous set as they pulled one off Peña and Madrio. It was a tight battle all throughout for the Bulldogs tandem, who hoped to seal it for the defending champions, but UST had other plans. The Tiger Tennisters led the deciding set 3-1 as NU’s Peña committed a double fault. The Bulldog junior redeemed himself as he and Madrio forced UST into errors while scoring winners of their own. The shaky service game of NU, however, proved detrimental when Patiño and Cabusas bounced back from three match points down and drove NU to errors to take the lead 6-5 and move one game closer to pulling one back for the second seeds.
Two successive errors against UST almost sent the third set of first doubles match into a tiebreak. But three straight miscues by Madrio and Peña made it match point for UST. NU was able to force deuce but after two long rallies, Patiño and Cabusas completed the upset for UST and won the set and the match, 1-6 6-4 7-5.
With the tie still left to be decided, the third singles and the second doubles matches were played simultaneously. It was the young duo of Francis Alcantara and John Accion who unleashed the final blow on the chances of the Tiger Tennisters because after dropping the gruelling first set tiebreak, the Bulldogs swept the following sets, 6-1 6-3. NU was able to control the pace of the match having a good all-around game.
The final singles match of the tie was played with Dheo Talatayod manning the court for the Bulldogs. The veteran started strong taking UST’s Francisco Santos to school, 6-1. But as the final point of the second doubles match was won, the burly senior also ran into the festive celebration.
At the awarding ceremonies, season hosts University of the East (UE) took their third-place trophy. UE head coach Numero Lim exclaimed his pride for his wards, “sa history ng UE, ngayon lang ulit nag-third place sa tennis.” The Red Warriors last stepped on the UAAP podium in 2006 when they placed third, after UST and University of the Philippines. UST bounced back from their fourth-place finish last year to being this year’s runners-up. The win sparked hope for this UAAP powerhouse to obtain the General Champion award.
Along with the championship trophy, it was a sweet victory for ace player Verdad as he was awarded his second MVP plum in a row. The Bulldog junior said of his win, “Masaya kasi hindi ko ineexpect. Nakuha ko na yung gusto kong isa(ng trophy), pero nakuha ko tong back-to-back.” Coach Karl Santamaria was also proud of his team and said, “Kung makikita nila ang NU dominant, pero ang hindi nakikita is how the players worked hard for this.” Santamaria also said that this win was the sweetest because of the challenges they faced throughout the season.
Click image for the UAAP Season 77 Men’s Tennis Awarding Ceremony: