Over a hundred women braved the early morning downpour last Monday to attend the opening ceremony of the country’s biggest ladies’ recreational club-level tennis tournament. And not one of them was late.
More than a competition that demonstrates the fierce spirit of female rivalry and camaraderie, the 17th Philippine Ladies Tennis League (PLTL) is about how this gentleman’s sport has transformed and defined the lives of many women.
A 70-plus-year-old player, for instance, missed the big opening when her blood pressure reportedly shot up to 200 on her way to the court, from sheer anticipation of the exciting days ahead.
Another one confessed to naming her two daughters Stefi and Monica, after ’90s tennis rivals Stefi Graf and Monica Seles.
Still another said she named her daughter Chris after her all-time fave, the ’80s tennis darling Chris Evert.
“Tennis is an amazing mental and skill sport,” said Donna Simpao, PLTL head. “Unlike going to the gym, tennis gives you a rest from all other issues of life as you focus just on the ball and your game.”
A total of 176 women have registered for this year’s PLTL. It’s the largest turnout so far, luring in players from Quezon City, as far as Cavite and Laguna.
Hosted by Manila Polo Club at Forbes Park, Makati City, the five-week tournament will culminate on Oct. 18. It has 22 teams competing in two divisions (six Class A teams and 16 Class B), with players ranging from young mothers to doting grandmothers.
“I think the key is the friendships you form with the team, the opponent team and the tennis community. You see players beat each other in the court, then socializing after the game,” Simpao said.
PLTL is run by volunteers and funded by sponsors. This year’s tournament is sponsored by Globe Tattoo, CBRE Philippines, Fila, Creamsilk, Manila Hotel and Solaire.
These women play at least four times a week, playing no less than two games per day. Some even spend the entire afternoon in the tennis courts. Christine Jacob Sandejas admits to hitting the tennis court after dropping her children to school.
Even choosing the team uniform involves a bit of brainstorming—and rushing to the stores to beat other teams to that gorgeous Stella McCartney getup.
“We do take our roles as members of our teams seriously, train twice a week, play games in between, and cross train with different types of workouts,” said Kit Zobel.
The petite Zobel is actually among the tournament’s strongest players. “I used to play as a junior, then quit in high school and college, and totally forgot about tennis for 14 years until after the birth of my first child when I needed to lose weight. I picked it up again and have been playing regularly for 13 years now,” she said.
Here are some of the women of PLTL, and what they have to say about tennis.
“The true character of a person comes out during a competition. You see it in the junior level, but more surprisingly, you also see it in the adults. But in the end, we all really strive for true sportsmanship and camaraderie. We can compete but we are all friends.”—Kit Zobel
“I love where it takes me. I love how it makes me feel. You can go out into the court, drop everything else that you are thinking about, and focus on just hitting the ball.”—Bonnie Santos
“Love everything about tennis, including dressing up. This year’s criteria for Best Uniform included how to make your tennis gear fun. We’re all just having fun.”—Jessica Puyat
“Tennis outfits are always nice—that’s the fun part of it. But I like how competitive this sport is, and the social aspect of meeting new people and forging friendships along the way.”—Beth Dizon
“I have tried everything, from swimming to running to triathlons. All those have always been about me. Now it’s about the team. You have the camaraderie, friends, uniforms, strategy, something I never had my entire competitive life. I’ve had so many injuries. I never had one in swimming and suddenly I was running and playing tennis and I’m not as young anymore. So I’m like falling apart and they have to tape me up.”—Christine Jacob Sandejas
“My husband plays tennis, so I thought it would be good if we can play together. Now I play more than he does. I play almost every day—singles, doubles, with the ladies, with the boys.”—Noriko Yamada
“I really started when I turned 50 15 years ago, so I can check on my husband, who plays a lot of tennis.”—Dory Miranda
“I grew up watching my dad play tennis. I met the dad of my son in a tennis court. My son now plays tennis. Tennis has grace. You cannot play na hindi mo pinag-aralan. If you’re playing doubles, you need to have chemistry with your partner. You learn discipline, patience and how to handle the butterflies in your stomach. You deal with women who practice every day so you need to be disciplined, as well.”—Cherry Pie Picache
“I dropped from 132 to 116 lbs—not abruptly, but slowly over time—that’s why I love this sport.”—Vivien Loyola
“It’s a mind game. Nothing can compare to the adrenaline rush. You also have to be physically fit. Tennis is more interesting than running or walking.”—Jeannalyn T. Morales
“I became more confident. There’s a sense of fulfillment that you can feel in every aspect of your life.”—Remy Balansing
“As long as I can play and sweat I am happy—win or lose. Since I started playing almost 10 years ago, I lost more than 20 lbs, and my heart condition has completely healed.”—Jenet Atiche
“I love this game. It motivates me to stay fit in order to play well.”—Ana Jumamil
“I’m a cancer survivor, and I’ve been playing tennis for 15 years, mixing it with Barre 3 and yoga in between. I’ve bonded with friends here for more than 10 years already.”—Emily Franco
“I love the mental challenge, and I love being mentally tough. I love competing. I’m crazy for the sport.”—Yuko Sugiyama
“I was snowboarding and skiing before, then one day I decided to try tennis. It’s been 10 years since I started playing. I love how challenging it is mentally, and I love being part of a team.”—Kazue Sawada
“I started playing tennis because I wanted to get rid of my nervousness. I wanted to win over my fears. I’m a soldier, and tennis used to be a game for men. In the military, when we play, the men would insist I do a one-hand stroke for my backhand because I’m a soldier. But I love Chris Evert, so I told them I like mine two-handed because that’s how she does it.”—Col. Grace Tolentino
“Tennis is my happiness. You look good physically, and you are mentally focused.”—Shirley Remandaban
“You never stop learning something new. There’s never a boring game at all.”—Rina Nuñez
“Tennis makes me feel good and fit. It’s a stress-reliever. I also use it for business networking. I’m a widow and single mom. Tennis helped me survive after my husband passed away.”—Ena Crecia
“I’ve been playing since the ’90s. My husband says I glow each time I talk about tennis.”—Nennette Soriano
“It gives me fulfillment after every game. Plus the fact that I also put in my daily dose of exercise.”—Mabel Nocum
“It keeps me fit. It gives me a chance to challenge myself to be a better player in every game, while socializing with old and new friends. It allows me to show my enthusiasm for designing tennis outfits and for enjoying this wonderful life!”—Tina Fiedler
“Being an expat, playing tennis makes me feel like I am home. I make new friends that share the love for the sport, and this in turn makes my stay easier in a new country. Also, I taught my husband tennis when we were dating. He is now such a tennis fan, that we play as a family every chance we get.”—Yuba Reichard
“Tennis teaches us discipline, perseverance, teamwork and camaraderie. It’s an assemblage of individuals with similar objectives of having a sound mind and body, building relationships with one another through a team sport of double tennis. It is not important how well you hit the ball or how fast you are. It is more focused on the teamwork and partnership aspects of the game.
“Being in this sport helps us be more patient with our family and with others. It also provides a venue to meet new friends and increase business opportunities. Win or lose, the sport has taught us to remain humble when the game has been won, and gracious in moments of defeat.”—Pebbles Puyat
“It teaches me the reality of life that when I encounter challenges, I learn how to rise above my situation and find a solution. Just like in tennis, when I’m down, I find ways to get out of the rut and focus on the end result, which is to win!”—Chiqui Villanueva