“Tennis is a perfect combination of violent action taking place in an atmosphere of total tranquility.” Billie Jean King
By Alex P. Vidal
IF Maia looked like a Bolshevik warrior, Maria looked like a sex nymphet.
Both were Manila visitors in different epochs.
And they spoke Russian.
Serena Williams did not anymore excite us as we are already familiar with her conquests in the United States.
Serena’s and sister Venus’ dominance of the ATP women’s single and double—both in the clay and grass courts—is already beyond imagination.
We’ve seen Serena, the world No. 1 tennis player, in Beverly Hills and even mistook her for a WWF wrestler because of her muscles and unique physique.
We were more interested on Maria Sharapova.
A high-ranking PNP official we met at the Sarabia Manor Hotel and Convention Center in Iloilo City last November 28, reminded us that Sharapova, et al were at the Mall of Asia (MOA) arena in Manila for the IPTL (International Premier Tennis League).
The PNP official, a tennis enthusiast, said tickets were sold at astronomical prices, thus he didn’t regret missing the big tennis event even if some of his colleagues and their families flew to Manila to watch the tournament.
Ilonggo tennis fans who watched the IPTL made the preparations months earlier, said the PNP official.
“Aside from the event’s expensive tickets, they had to book for their flight earlier to avail a fare discount. Plus their hotel accommodation and other expenses,” the PNP official said.
Sharapova was not the first prominent individual star player in world sports from Russia who displayed her talent before a Filipino crowd.
In 1991, FIDE women world chess champion, Maia Chiburdanidze, came to defend her title against Xie Jun of China but lost by 8½–6½.
At 14 years, Maia’s reign was the third longest behind only that of the first women’s champion, Vera Menchik, who reigned for 17 years from 1927 until her death in 1944, and that of Nona Gaprindashvili ‘s 16 years from whom she took the title in 1978.
At the MOA, fans preferred to watch Sharapova over any other ATP world-rated players divided into two teams: Singapore Slammers and Manila Mavericks.
Pinoy fans remembered Sharapova’s roller coaster romance with Slovenian cage star Sasha Vujacic more than her dramatic defeat to Serena Williams in the finals of the women’s single during the 2012 Summer Olympic Games.
She resembles more like a fashion model and a Miss Universe bet even before she turned professional at 14 because of her longs legs and golden hair.
She would not have been recognized as a world class tennis player if her father did not bring her to Florida when she was 9, the age where Sharapova started to show her tennis savvy.
Although many Russians excelled in tennis, it was in the United States were potential players can easily get corporate support.
When she claimed her first WTA victory at the 2003 AIG Japan Open and reached the fourth round at Wimbledon on her first attempt during the same year, Sharapova became a household name all over the world.
In 2004, success became the benchmark of her young career when she won the singles title to become Russia’s first woman Wimbledon champion.
She added the WTA Championship title to her achievements at the end of 2004.
She was ranked No. 4 at the start of 2006 and that year won the US Open.