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UP Rookie Salas: Making that one shot count

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In UAAP Season 76, 2013 Asian Youth Games men’s singles silver medalist Jurence Mendoza had followed the footsteps of older brothers, Julian and Justin, to the halls of University of the Philippines and onto the courts for their men’s tennis team.

Since then, the young standout had made an immediate mark and helped the Fighting Maroons reach their first-ever Finals appearance since 2008.

Two years later, another tennis prodigy has entered UP and is attempting to duplicate what Mendoza had accomplished and, hopefully, more. Meet Vince Russell Salas.

Vince, as he is known by his peers and family, started playing at the age of 4, because his parents practice the sport. “My mom and dad play tennis, so they brought me to the tennis courts when they practice. [Since then,] I enjoyed tennis,” the UP rookie shared. Much can be said about his skills; just two years after starting to hold a tennis racket, Salas won his first-ever tournament. He recalled, “I joined 12-and-under and I won.”

From there as the cliché goes, “the rest is history.”

With unlimited potential in his chosen career, or passion, as he himself put it, it was not a surprise that the Pampanga teenager had been lured by most of the UAAP schools. Nonetheless, the choice was a relatively easy one for Vince: “I chose UP.”

At the start of the season, teammate and senior Gabby Gutierrez had high regards for Salas and felt that he is the ‘second coming’ of Mendoza. Salas is flattered by the comparison, but he has been quick to dismiss it by saying he had lots to work on to reach the stature of the former Maroons stalwart and UAAP Season 76 Rookie of the Year. He recalled, “Jurence and I grew up together. [He is] probably a few years older, but we played in tournaments. I can say that we’re equal, but he’s leading in practice, tournaments, and everything.”

True to the comparison, however, Salas has admitted that the primary reason for choosing UP is that he plans to study and to train in the US soon – similar to what Mendoza is doing right now. “When I was about to graduate, there were offers from the top four schools and, pretty much, the best offer was from UST; but if I wanted to transfer in the US, UP would be the one which credits all the subjects and I really wanted to be in UP,” he explained.

With that being said, the potential one-time Fighting Maroon has his goals set. When asked about his personal goals this season, he did not mention anything about himself. What he wants was for the team “to be the champion of the UAAP.” Thus, despite the setback against neighbors Ateneo in their latest tie, Salas is still optimistic of their chances, knowing everyone is on the same page with regards to the goal of winning UP’s 7th Men’s Tennis title. To turn the season around, he believes that, “[w]e still need to work together. Everyone [should] push each other and no one [should] ever give up.”

With a core from that UAAP season 76 runner-up team, and talented rookies in Salas and Lenard Cheng, the Fighting Maroons are up to the challenge of getting back that elusive championship to the University.

As for Vince, he will face all adversities up front and will try to accomplish something Mendoza tried but failed to bring to UP – that championship trophy. After all, this might be his only chance.

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Grew to appreciate various sports from tennis to judo. True-maroon kiddo since the new millennium. Fanboy. Singer. Occasional sports writer.

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