Tennis hope out to conquer world

By Joaquin Henson (The Philippine Star)

MANILA, Philippines - The world is opening up for Cagayan de Oro tennis star Francis Casey (Niño) Alcantara who has completed four years of US varsity eligibility and is now ready to make his mark in the pro circuit.

Alcantara, 22, is back in Manila for a brief summer break and will return to Pepperdine University next week to begin his last schoolyear of studies for a degree in communications. While he has wound up his NCAA career, Alcantara stays on with the Pepperdine varsity as a coach and trainer until his graduation. Where he will be based after finishing at the Malibu school depends on his sponsors Rommie Chan, Oscar Hilado and Jean Henri Lhuillier. clay.

“Right now, I’m not thinking of a career in communications even if I’m determined to earn my degree,” said Alcantara. “I want to continue playing tennis. P. J. (Tierro) is No. 1 in the Philippines and if given the chance, I’d like to aspire for that ranking. I’ve played in two PCA Opens, reaching the semis and quarters. That’s a tournament I’d like to win. I’ve played in seven Davis Cup ties for the Philippines and representing our country is a big honor that if I’m qualified, I hope to continue to do.”

Alcantara said breaking into the ATP and WTA circuit would be a dream come true. As a junior U18 player, he played twice at the Australian and French Open and Wimbledon and thrice at the US Open. In 2009, Alcantara made history by becoming the first Filipino to capture a Grand Slam title after teaming up with Chinese-Taipei’s Hsieh Cheng-peng for the Australian Open junior doubles championship. Alcantara was once ranked No. 14 in the world as a singles junior player.

Alcantara made his Davis Cup debut in 2009 and has now played against Hong Kong, Pakistan twice, Japan, Indonesia, Thailand and New Zealand. His record is 4-3 in singles and 2-0 in doubles. “One of my most memorable Davis Cup matches was when Treat (Huey) and I won our doubles match against New Zealand after we went down 0-2 in singles so we kept our hopes alive,” he said.

Chan, who has long supported Philippine tennis in a quiet way, said Alcantara has the potential to become an outstanding player in the pros. “Maybe, Treat and Niño could team up to play in Challenger tournaments,” he said. “That would be great exposure for Niño. Also, it would prepare them for doubles play in future Davis Cups.” Alcantara’s junior tennis coach Jun Toledo said there’s a bright future ahead for the rising star. “No doubt, Niño is talented,” said Toledo. “He improved his game at Pepperdine and he plays with a lot more confidence now. What I like about Niño is he wants to share his knowledge. Now that he’s on summer break, he teaches at the Philippine Tennis Academy and updates our coaches on the latest trends in tennis. I’ve traveled with Niño around the world, visiting over 30 countries, when he was a junior. I know his capabilities. He’s quick, he anticipates well, he’s very intelligent. He’s the symbol of the young generation of Philippine tennis.”

Alcantara said he owes everything to Chan. “I was 12 when Tito Rommie came to Cagayan de Oro and saw me play,” said Alcantara who was only 10 when his father Francis died at 37 in 2002. “I remember Tito Rommie asked me if I wanted to be No. 1 in the world. That changed my life. Tito Rommie gave me a break. I also owe a lot to Godfrey Callao, an umpire at Rizal Memorial, and coach Jun.”

It was Chan who worked out an athletic scholarship for Alcantara at Fresno State then Pepperdine. “I played two years at Fresno State,” said Alcantara. “I transferred to Pepperdine for the last two years of my NCAA eligibility because I wanted to upgrade my level of play. Fresno State plays in the top 40 while Pepperdine in the top 10. At Pepperdine, we’ve got nine courts and the gym for all athletes is right in the tennis complex. Our varsity was made up of players from all over the world, from Australia, New Zealand, Ukraine, India, England, Brazil, Canada and Hawaii. Tuition for Pepperdine is about $60,000 a year. So for four years, that comes up to the equivalent of P10 Million. Through the assistance of my sponsors, I was able to enroll as a scholar. It’s the best training anyone can get as a tennis player. It’s free use of the courts, free coaching, unlimited supply of gear, free gym facilities and free education. We train 21 hours a week, about three to four hours a day without weekends. On our own, you can add more practice hours. My dorm is on campus. For conditioning, we do a lot of stair work and run around our two-mile campus thrice in the morning. In my senior year, we were ranked No. 8 in doubles and made it to the NCAA quarterfinals. Being named to the All-American team was a big achievement.”

Aside from battling quality competition in the US, Alcantara said he also practiced with visiting pros like France’s Benoit Paire, once the world’s No. 24 player, and Germany’s Andre Begemann. “Both at Fresno State and Pepperdine, our kababayan would show their support by watching my matches,” he said. “They’d stand in my corner when I played. It’s a great feeling to play as a Filipino and give honor to our country.”

Source: Philippine Star