The Ateneo de Manila University men’s tennis team has been on the outside looking in in recent years.
Saturday morning, the Blue Eagles finally broke through, clinching their first Finals appearance after 17 years, with a convincing win past the University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons.
The Blue Eagles needed just the first three matches to secure their place in the last dance against the defending champions UE Red Warriors.
It was captain Ino Canlas who started the rout for the Blue and White after he survived some strong challenge from senior Maroon Kyle Joseph in the first singles match. Despite some struggles on his service game and the opponent’s moments of brilliance, the graduating skipper pulled through with a 6-2, 6-2 win.
Moments after, third-year Marcen Gonzales made it 2-0 after finally closing out Joel Atienza in the second singles match after taking six match points. The UP sophomore almost pulled the rag off his Ateneo counterpart in that second set after getting a break point, but eventually an errant return conceded the game and the match to Gonzales.
Eventually, Julian Dayrit and AJ Rivero wrapped the Finals berth for the Blue Eagles in the first doubles match. Mimo Tomacruz and Elijah Arevalo looked poised to get one for UP with a huge 6-1 first set win, before Rivero, who played his first match this season, got his game going as well. It was Dayrit’s heads-up play and Rivero’s stunning net control that clinched the next two frames for Ateneo at 6-2, 6-3.
It was but happiness, especially for the graduating Canlas to finally send the Loyola-based squad to the Finals. “It feels great; I’m not gonna lie. We worked hard over the Christmas break and thankfully it paid off: all of the training, all of the morning workouts,” he said.
He also added that as the season went on they actually learned to improve their game with their after-tie huddles and analyses. “It was a big help ’cause when you’re playing the game, you don’t see certain aspects of your game, so there’s where the coaches come in. It was really big help ’cause we get to practice shots we don’t normally practice.”
Erj Gatdula and Luke Flores of the Ateneo stopped Auden Pagduganan and Vincent Alanis in the other doubles match at 7-5, 6-4, before UP skipper Joshua Cano waylaid league’s lone rookie Bong Gonzales in the third singles match at 6-0, 6-2 to prevent a shutout.
The Finals-bound Blue Eagles (5-2) will take on the Red Warriors (6-0) in a preview of the championship battle next Sunday, March 11 at 8 am. Before that, the Fighting Maroons (0-6) will take a crack of the same team this Sunday at 8 am.