By JEROME LAGUNZAD
Team Philippines eyes nothing less than a strong retribution against arch nemesis Thailand as they duke it out in the 2018 Davis Cup Asia-Oceania Group II tie starting this Saturday at the Philippine Columbian Association clay courts in Paco, Manila.
Grizzled Johnny Arcilla, an eight-time PCA Open titlist, is eager to prove he’s far from being a spent force even at 38 while veterans Francis Casey Alcantara and Jeson Patrombon are out to provide the stability on the Filipinos side aiming to come up with a fitting follow-up to its 4-1 win over Indonesia in the opening round tie last February.
Joining them in trying to complete the daunting task of pulling the rug from under the fancied Thais are University of the East star AJ Lim, the reigning two-time UAAP MVP, and La Salle standout John Bryan Otico.
“Our hopes are high,” said Philippine national team coach Chris Cuarto yesterday. “This is the best composition that we can have. Malaki ang tiwala ako sa kanila, talent-wise o kahit ano pa. On paper, they (the Thais) are better. But anything can happen when you step on the court.”
The Thais, however, are leaving nothing to chance as they try to come up with a stronger showing following a close 3-2 decision over Sri Lanka in the previous round and reassert their mastery over the Filipinos whom they dominated 5-0 in the same stage last year.
Touted Ratiwatana twins, Sonchat and Sanchai, are keen on dominating the double’s match while top player Jirat Navasirisomboon, Palaphoom Kovapitukted and Wishaya Trongcharienchaikul are eager to lord to it over in the singles matches.
“To be honest, we are expecting to win,” said Sonchat Ratiwatana. “But anything can happen. We played them on hardcourt in the (2017) SEA Games and it wasn’t easy. The clay court is not our forte. So I would say there’s a 50-50 chance.”
Although the odds are stacked against them, Lim, 18, is just eager to relish the opportunity at hand as he and the rest of his teammates put their best foot forward.
“Hindi namin maga guaranatee ‘yung panalo dahil matataas ‘yung rankings ng mga players nila. Ang tanging maga-guarantee namin, ibibigay talaga namin ‘yung best namin para mabigyan sila ng magandang laban,” he said.
Meantime, Cuarto made an impassioned plea to all stakeholders of the sport to support the PH team which is a good mix of young and veteran players.
“Despite the issue of leadership, I hope all tennis leaders and fans will come and support our team,” said Cuarto.
“We are not playing for Philta (Philippine Tennis Association) or for other camp, we are playing for the country, so I hope everybody will back us up in this fight. We need your support.”