The tight race for the last Finals slot is motivation enough for the University of Santo Tomas Male Tennisters to keep winning.
And head coach Alexander Diego and the rest of the men from España relied heavily on that motivation as they snuffed out the Ateneo de Manila University’s hopes with a close 3-2 decision, Saturday at the Rizal Memorial Tennis Center.
“Alam naman nila kung gaano ka-importante yung [tie] na ‘to,” Diego shared. “Ginagawa nila lahat para makuha yung panalo. Alam nila na dikit yung ranking.”
With a glimmer of hope left, the Blue Eagles put on a great start after taking the first two singles matches.
Marcen Gonzales overpowered Dave Mosqueda in straight sets, 6-3, 6-4, in the first singles match. Skipper Ino Canlas was then made to work before turning down En-En Lopez, 6-4, 6-3, to put Ateneo a match away from an upset.
Nonetheless, the Tigers showed their determination and swept the remaining matches.
UST’s captain JC Cabusas and partner Bernlou Bering overcame Erj Gatdula and AJ Rivero in the first doubles match, 6-1, 6-4. The other doubles pair of Clarence Cabahug and Warren Lagahit survived Anton Punzalan and Julian Dayrit, 6-4, 6-3, to level the tie.
Luke Flores, who played his first singles match in the UAAP, threatened to steal the tie for the Blue and White one last time after taking the first set at 6-3. Nico Lanzado, however, this time outlasted the doubles specialist in the second set and again in the third.
With the match at 2-1 and the Thomasian junior in the lead, Flores fell due to cramps. The Atenean tried to fight after treatment, but he could barely move and, consequently, was forced to retire after two more games.
“Sobrang crucial ng game. Hindi na namin in-expect na manalo kasi sobrang dikit nung third singles,” Diego admitted. “Siguro sinuwerte lang kami.”
However, the mentor also gave credit to his wards’ composure. Diego continued, “Konting kapit na lang para sa Finals. Alam nila na every point importante.”
The Male Tennisters (6-2) will try to take one from the University of the East Red Warriors (8-1), Sunday, March 12, at 8am. A win from the Tigers will lock their place in the Finals. Meanwhile, the Blue Eagles (3-6) will try to close their season with a win against the defending champions National University (4-4).