Nearly a year after making a big decision to turn professional at the tender age of 18, Filipino tennis sensation Jeson Patrombon has made big strides in the pro circuit and is on target to crack the top 500 of the ATP rankings by the end of the year.
I chatted with Manny Tecson, Patrombon's coach, last Sunday at the PCA courts, where Team Philippines was putting the finishing touches on their 5-0 Davis Cup rout of Pakistan, and he said Jeson, who currently holds a world singles ranking of 880, will continue to climb the rankings now that he is a full-time professional.
"We're right on track," said Tecson. "Last year, the schedule was 60% juniors and 40% men's. And the main objective last year was to get some points so that we don't have to ask for wild cards, which is so difficult to get. Last year, the [other] objective was to get to a quarterfinal finish in the men's Futures by yearend and to break the top 900."
Jeson achieved both objectives last January after playing two tough tournaments in Israel. He reached the quarterfinals of the second tournament, beating the top seed from the Netherlands along the way, and left Israel with an additional three ATP points which helped boost his ranking to 872. He ended 2011 with a rank of 941.
"Medyo maganda ang simula namin noong January," Tecson noted. Futures tournaments are the starting line for aspiring pros, and a win in a Futures tournament is worth one ATP point. Next up the tennis food chain is the ATP Challenger circuit, which is a step away from the elite ATP World Tour where the sport's royalty play. Currently Patrombon has 12 ATP points, and needs to accumulate around 60-plus to crack the top 500.
In February, young Jeson was named to the Philippine Davis Cup team that was to take on Pacific Oceania in a Group II tie. He had already played in the Davis Cup last year, against Chinese Taipei and New Zealand, but both times were no-bearing matches with the outcome already decided. This was the first time he was named to play in the opening singles matches, taking the place of Cecil Mamiit no less.
"Dati kasi naglalaro siya sa mga non-bearing," Tecson said. "All of a sudden now, he's playing no. 1 (singles) at 18 years old and at the same time may bearing na. Plus you have to understand, you still have Treat Huey there and Ruben Gonzales, guys who are also in the tour. And then you have Johnny Arcilla. You're filling such big shoes with Cecil Mamiit out. It was a lot of pressure for him, but we talked about it. I told him, 'This is the reason why we're doing this. And you can handle the pressure.' Ang maganda doon, he delivered two wins in the Davis Cup."
Against Pacific Oceania, Patrombon beat Cyril Jacobe in straight sets in the opening singles match and brushed aside Aymeric Mara in the reverse singles to contribute two wins in the 5-0 rout. Things were looking up for the former world no.9 junior player, but unfortunately he suffered an ankle injury last month while playing in a tournament in Japan, which slowed down his progress and eventually kept him out of the Davis Cup tie against Pakistan. Tecson said, though, that the ankle is now about "85-90%" healed, paving the way for him to return to action next week in Vietnam.
"Unfortunately, we were really looking forward to this tie, but we weren't able to participate," Tecson said. "By next week, we're leaving for Vietnam to play in a professional tournament there. After Vietnam, we come back for two weeks to train and then we go to Thailand for three tournaments to pick up some more ATP points. Our objective is to break the top 500 by the end of this year so that we can start playing more Challenger events. We're getting there, slowly. Na-derail lang kami ng kaunti sa injury niya in Japan."
Aside from recovering from his injury, Tecson thinks Patrombon still needs to improve his conditioning and add more strength to his upper body and legs. "Technically, we'd like to develop the serve some more."
Tecson also revealed that they will fly to Indonesia in June to play three Futures events as part of their build-up for the crucial Philippines-Indonesia Davis Cup Group II finals in September where a slot in Group I is at stake.
The Indonesians overcame a 1-2 deficit to upset Thailand, and they will be hosting the Philippines in the finals scheduled for September 14 to 16. Tecson said the Indons are tough to beat when they play before their home crowd, but the Philippines has a chance.
"They play well if the crowd is with them but away they are not the same team," Tecson said. "That's why I'm not surprised they beat Thailand even with (top Thai player Danai) Udomchoke. But I still believe we can win it. Doubles will be very crucial.
"But definitely we're already looking forward to playing the finals of the Davis Cup Group II in September."
As are we, Coach Manny.
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