The winning streak continues.
Veteran Dheo Talatayod showed his championship heart as he lifted the defending three-time champions National University Bulldogs, 3-2, over last year’s surprise third-placers University of the East Red Warriors, Sunday at The Rizal Memorial Tennis Center.
Earlier in the afternoon, the Bulldogs and the Warriors had shared the spoils, two matches each, to set the stage for Talatayod’s heroics. The reigning titlists leaned on the masterful victories of former Most Valuable Players Lean Lazaro and Fritz Verdad. Lazaro shook off the challenge of UE rookie Jeric Delos Santos in the first singles match. The Warrior newbie failed to follow up his rousing debut against UST, as Lazaro showed his wares in a clinical 6-2 6-4 victory.
Verdad followed this up with a similar 6-1 6-4 decision against Rogelio Estaño Jr. Using the similar style of patient tennis, the reigning MVP showed that he is the master of the aforementioned brand of play as he finished off the long rallies. Estaño tried to crawl back into the match, but that lone service break advantage carried Verdad for the win.
UE, however, proved their mettle in the doubles pairings after the Warriors swept those matches. Rolly Saga and Jeleardo Amazona easily upended Jeremiah Latorre and Francis Alcantara in the first, 6-3, before pulling through in the second, 6-4.
In the second doubles match, UE super-senior Paulo Baran and Rolando Barquin Jr. survived a gritty opening set, 6-4. NU’s Jigo Peña and Al Madrio then flexed their muscles in the following frame, 6-2, to force a deciding final set. The Warriors threatened to snatch the match several times, but errors almost doomed their chances. However, the lead was big enough for Baran and Barquin to finally nail the winning point.
On the other court, last year’s Rookie of the Year Josshua Kinaadman also forced a decider against Talatayod, who earlier had won the first set, 6-3. The second-year upstart scored a 6-2 win in the succeeding set to send pressure to the NU veteran. Talatayod, however, shook off the pressure and snatched the third set emphatically at 6-1.
NU Head Coach Karl Santamaria praised Talatayod on how he managed to emerge in the deciding singles match. He said, “Sinabi ko kay Dheo, ‘Show him na you’ve been there.’ And he responded.” The long-time mentor also welcomed the stiff competition and shared what he always tells his players. “We’re not the champions anymore. Wala namang plus points kapag defending champions. We all start at zero.” Santamaria ended by saying, “We have to always keep setting the bar higher.”