John David Velez and Bliss Bayking set out against a crack set of rivals in their respective sides, including a slew of local bets out to fuel their own title drive in the PPS-PEPP Dagitab Festival national age-group tournament which got going yesterday (Saturday) at the City of Naga Tennis Courts in Cebu.
Velez and Bayking have dominated the premier division (18-and-under) majority of the Palawan Pawnshop-Palawan Express Pera Padala tennis season but the young stars are in for a tough challenge with a host of title-hungry players out to foil their bid in the Group I tournament which drew a huge cast of over 250 entries in nine age-group categories.
But the likes of Venz Alforque, Eric Longakit, Mitch Largo and Vincent Canete are all geared up to defend their turf, coming into the event riding the momentum of their surprise victories in last week’s PPS-PEPP Mayor Junard Chan leg of the country’s long-running and biggest talent-search presented by Dunlop.
Alforque joins Velez in the featured division that also includes Eric Tangub, Vinz Lominoque, Vincent Yamut and Cesar Salimbangon; Longakit and Largo are in the 16-U cast also led by Velez and Tangub; while Canete shoots for another reversal in the 12-U play the way he did in Lapu Lapu City last week.
Bayking also expects to have her hands full in the girls’ 18-U section with Mia Gemida and siblings Khymberly and Ashley McKenzie in the draw with the McKenzies and Gemida topbilling the 16-U category along with Claire Nocos and Hazel Coderos.
“The presence of the country’s top juniors are expected to fire up the locals and we expect top-notch action and surprises from this big field chasing ranking points and recognition,” said Palawan Pawnshop president/CEO Bobby Castro.
Khymberly McKenzie also gains the top seeding in 14-U side that also features Faith Banico, Therese Gauran, Shaira Paliwag and Nocos while a four-cornered fight looms among Banico, Paliwag, Gauran and Lea Balacuit in 12-U play of the tournament held in conjunction with the Dagitab Festival (grand festival of lights) celebrations.
Pete Bandala, Ezra Sepulveda, Christian Laguna and Rey Balacuit are tipped to dispute the 10-unisex crown in the event sanctioned by Unified Tennis Philippines made up of PPS-PEPP, Cebuana Lhuillier, Wilson, Toby’s, Dunlop, Slazenger and B-Meg and which also stakes five titles in doubles play (boys and girls’ 14- and 18-U and 10-unisex).
Also on tap are the Legends 30s, 40s and 50s divisions which begin tomorrow (Monday) while the Open, featuring the country’s leading players, will start Tuesday, according to PPS-PEPP Sports Program Development director Bobby Mangunay. For details, contact 0915-4046464.