International Premier Tennis League – Manila Leg

I’m a tennis fan. I’m not exactly a hardcore fan (I don’t spend on tennis shirts, racquets, balls or any tennis merchandise, maybe one Djokovic shirt), but I’m a fan nevertheless. So the moment I learned that the International Premier Tennis League (IPTL) was going to have its first leg in Manila and they were going to bring some tennis players to Manila, I started setting aside money to buy tickets.

I set aside something which could have been enough for a lower box seat, but then I started taking money from it to fund my other trips so I was left with barely enough for an upper box seat. I’m glad I just purchased the upper box seat since my idol Novak Djokovic couldn’t join the Manila leg.

For this trip, I booked a couple of rooms at Dusit Thani for our first two nights, one for me and a suite for my friends Nene and Caloi as my wedding gift for them. Yes, I do spend for hotels sometimes. Suites at Dusit are way less expensive than the cheapest rooms at Shangri-La or maybe at other five-star hotels, so Dusit is now my go-to luxury hotel. For our third and last night, I booked a room at Microtel.

We left the hotel at 3:20pm on Friday and, because of heavy traffic (we have yet to experience the worst), we arrived at MOA Arena a few minutes after 4:00pm. The first match was already ongoing. It was a mixed doubles match between Sania Mirza and Bopanna Bopanna representing the Indian Aces and Daniela Hantuchova and Bruno Soares representing the Singapore Slammers.

The crowd did not get that excited until the women’s singles though. It seemed like Ana Ivanovic was the crowd favorite. She’d get screams of adoration even if she was not playing. Gael Monfils was fun to watch too and knew how to play the crowd.

I noticed after a few matches that the IPTL format was very different from the WTA or ATP format. They played no-ad games, which means that anyone who wins a point after deuce wins the game. If both teams won five games each, the tie-breaker was in the form of a five-minute shootout.

Perhaps the most distracting of all was the serve clock. It would count down from 20 seconds and while it is the rule for most tournaments, it is seldom enforced, or if ever enforced, the player would get a warning first. We all know it takes more than 20 seconds for any player to get ready for a serve. The clock would then make a ticking sound when it would reach five seconds. Gael Monfils and Maria Sharapova were the only players who got penalized (they each lost a point) when they played on the first day as the ticking sound was eventually minimized on the second and third days.

It also seemed that the ball kids were not trained adequately. Some were too slow to catch the ball and those behind the serving player did not always have balls to give to the players in time considering there was a serve clock.

The second battle on the first day was between the Manila Mavericks and the UAE Royals. Things got exciting during the mixed doubles match. It was Maria Sharapova and Andy Murray versus Kristina Mladenovic and Nenad Zimonjic. It was supposed to be Kristen Flipkens and Treat Huey playing for the Mavericks but I guess they wanted to show more star power. While it was a fun match, Sharapova and Murray are not doubles specialists so they lost.

The women’s singles match was also a highlight. Sharapova was down 3-5 to Mladenovic but playing in a home crowd made her more inspired I think. She was able to catch up and won the shootout.

It was nice to see Sharapova having fun. I always thought of her as unfriendly, but she knew how to excite her fans. She always laughed and signed autographs endlessly. I now love her.

After the matches, we had a late dinner at Juan’s Bistro in MOA. Nene was feverish so she only had macaroni soup while I was really hungry.

It was a challenge going back to the hotel. There was no taxi available. Actually, there were many cabs that were vacant but almost all of them were refusing almost all passengers. It was close to midnight so people had a hard time finding a taxi. We were forced to ride a bus that thankfully stopped a few meters from Dusit.

The next morning, my friend Hazel got to the hotel. We were supposed to run at 6am but I did not have enough sleep. After having breakfast, I went back to sleep and didn’t wake up until 11am. We just went to the hotel’s gym then. I got to run on the treadmill for about 34 minutes. It was my first time to go inside a gym so hooray!

We had lunch at Yabu, a Japanese restaurant that I really adore for its pork katsudon. I had a good time eating there.

It was about 5pm when we went back to the MOA Arena for the second day of the IPTL event. We missed the men’s singles and the men’s doubles matches of the first battle of the day between the UAE Royals and the Singapore Slammers. There was nothing really very exciting that went on for this first battle, at least from what we have witnessed personally.

During the break, Caloi and I tried sneaking in to the lower box. We were able to sneak in and were able to take pictures of some of the players up close warming up.

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These pictures just show how I do not have any future in sports photography.

Anyway, we wanted to stay inside the lower box but Nene was left alone upstairs. She didn’t want to go with us because she is that honest, so Caloi left after taking pictures to go back to their seats. I would have stayed but I got too uncomfortable especially that I was alone.

My plan was to go home after two matches, but the most important match between Sharapova and Ivanovic was scheduled last for the night so I decided to stay until the end. Ivanovic won and her team Indian Aces won versus the Mavericks.

Since I would be doing a half-marathon early the next day, we decided to just order take-out for dinner. Again, it was a challenge going back to our hotel in Makati. We decided to go straight for the bus but initially there was no bus passing by Ayala Ibabao. When a bus finally did appear, I had to stand because there were no more seats. We were then stuck in traffic for almost an hour! It usually only takes about 15 minutes from Ayala to MOA.

I was hungry and dead tired when we got back to the hotel. I was able to sleep at about 12:45am. I woke up at 3:30am, put on my running outfit and got to the starting line at PICC just in time for the gun start at 4:11am. I’m doing a separate post for that run.

After the run, we went back to the hotel where I showered and changed to another singlet to be comfortable. Unfortunately, the restaurant in Dusit Thani has a dress code that prohibits male guests from wearing shirts without sleeves. I had to go back up to my room with sore feet just to change my shirt.

Anyway, the breakfast buffet in Dusit has always been nice with a lot of selections.

I slept for a little while and woke up at 11am to get ready to check out. I was craving for sinigang so we went to Max’s. The beer there was cheap so that was all I wanted.

We separated from Hazel after lunch and we went to check in at Microtel. Nene had to meet her sister and another friend of ours. I didn’t make it though because I thought their meeting place was close but was quite a walk.

Microtel is almost right in front of the MOA Arena so it was very accessible. If I had known traffic was that bad, I would have instead booked the suite here. But Nene and Caloi loved Dusit anyway so it was worth it.

The first battle was between the UAE Royals and Indian Aces. As usual, Ana Ivanovic got the most cheer even though she lost to Kristina Mladenovic. Gael Monfils got to show off his dance moves and Mladenovic her football skills.

It was the Indian Aces that won and they were the overall winner in Manila having not lost any match. They looked like they really had a lot of fun.

During the break, Caloi and I went down and sneaked into the lower box again. Caloi stayed until after Serena was introduced. I stayed well after that but I didn’t stay long enough because one of the security guards started checking the tickets, so before he could reach me, I walked out of there.

Anyway, here’s Serena Williams:

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Serena lost her mixed doubles match. She was paired with Lleyton Hewitt and they represented the Singapore Slammers. They were against Kirsten Flipkens, who played her very first IPTL match after Sharapova left Manila early that day, and Andy Murray of the Mavericks. Serena won her singles match against Flipkens though. I was surprised to see how passionate Serena looked.

The last match was perhaps the most exciting. It was the men’s singles between Andy Murray and Nick Kyrgios. Both players were crowd favorites with Kyrgios being a big server and Murray representing the home crowd. Murray was down 5-2 but managed to get it to 5-5 and won the shootout.

The Mavericks won for the first time. They only lost the women’s singles match on the third day. That was a good end especially after they lost in their first two nights.

After the games, we just ordered takeout and ate in our room at Microtel. Nene was again feverish as she was mostly during the weekend. We had to wake up early though for our flights. I was on a later flight so we had to leave separately. I got home a little past 10am on Monday.

It was a great weekend. I would have made side trips if only the traffic congestion in Manila wasn’t that bad.

We had fun seeing those tennis stars though whom we only get to see on tv.

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