The coach sounds a bit gushy when describing Anna Clarice Patrimonio. Yet he strongly thinks it’s not hyperbolic to say that Clarice could be the best player that Philippine women’s tennis has seen in decades.
But it’s a claim few should doubt, considering that it’s backed by no less than Cecil Mamiit, the US-based Filipino tennis standout enviably working as a hitting partner to World’s No. 1 tennis pro Maria Sharapova.
“Clarice is a player who only comes once every 20 to 30 years,” says tennis coach Karl Santamaria, who has been this player’s personal mentor since she picked up her first racket at 8.
“When you talk about skills and physical attributes, she can be at par with international players. Her physical strength is her advantage. Her potential is immense.”
As Santamaria recalls, Clarice made such an impression on Mamiit during the 2011 Southeast Asian Games that they’re now working on arrangements to have the top-ranked 18-year-old train with him in California.
“During the SEA [Southeast Asian] Games, Cecil took a liking to Clarice. He saw how she was able to dominate some of the top 200 ranked players even without much experience,” says Santamaria. “Cecil really wants to help produce the next Filipino pro tennis player.”
Of course, just how close Clarice can get to the elite level of the famously grunting Sharapova has everyone guessing.
These days, though, there’s fandom of a different kind that another Patrimonio sibling has to deal with.
Since joining the reality television show “Pinoy Big Brother” (PBB) late last year, Anna Christine “Tin” Patrimonio, the other half of this charming tennis sister act, her screaming and adoring fans have grown by the thousands, judging by her multiple Twitter and Facebook fan pages alone.
“I’m really enjoying showbiz,” admits Tin who, as telegenic as she already is, looks even prettier in person. “I like it that just a picture, an autograph or even a handshake can already make other people happy.”
But she’s not giving up tennis, she adds. “Tennis will always be in my heart; it will never go. I still want to join tournaments in the future. For the meantime, it’s just showbiz. I’ll see how it turns out, if there are opportunities here.”
The ambivalence has some observers asking: Is Tin’s career shift just a tactical move to veer away from the on-court sibling rivalry?
Far from it, she says.
“It’s okay when people say Clarice is better in tennis. I think I’ve already proven that I’m better than her,” Tin says with a laugh. “We just didn’t peak at the same time. But Clarice is really more about power; sometimes I couldn’t return her shots. I’m about control, speed and running.”
Just a few years back, the sisters clashed in the singles championship match of two local tournaments.
“I won both,” the younger Clarice says with a grin. “I’m more confident when I’m [playing] against my sister. I feel like I have nothing to lose. We’re sisters, so it doesn’t matter who wins.”
“Pero nagkakainisan din kami [We also get on each other’s nerves],” shares Tin. “Sometimes she shouts ‘chamba!’ [sheer luck] in an actual tournament. I get pissed and I shout back at her. So there are times we don’t talk after a game. But that’s just when we play against each other. We’re actually supportive of one other.”
Such banter is, in fact, very familiar in the Patrimonio household.
“As a family, we’re competitive,” says mom Cindy Conwi Patrimonio. “We’re always competing against each other, even if it’s just a video game and a matter of getting the highest score.”
But Cindy says her daughters, who were born between two sons – eldest Angelo and youngest Asher – have personalities as contrasting as their games.
“Christine is more outgoing, while Clarice is so much like Alvin, just the female version,” says Cindy.
Alvin, of course, is long-time basketball superhero Alvin Patrimonio.
“Tin is closer to Alvin, but Clarice is Alvin,” says Cindy. “Clarice also has the fire that Alvin has. When people see her hit the racket, they say she’s like a cannonball. Tin is the thinker. She’s like [Martina] Hingis, always well played, while the other is Sharapova.”
Santamaria admits that a head-to-head comparison of the Patrimonio sisters might be unfair.
“You can’t fully compare. Their strengths as players are different,” he notes. “Clarice is physical. She wins by brute force and power and by dominating her opponent. Tin is the thinking player and plays with finesse. She knows she doesn’t have the physical attributes of Clarice, so she has to win with her court smarts and by trying to outlast her opponents. Her strength is her mental game.”
Understandably, things didn’t go easy for Santamaria when, just a month before the SEA Games last year, Tin opted out of the sister act for a promising primetime TV debut.
“It was a tough decision for Tin. She was already part of the SEA Games line-up, her accreditation was ready,” Santamaria recalls. “But she kept going back and forth, thinking, vacillating. I told her she has to give up one. From a coaching standpoint, sayang [it’s regrettable]. It was a good opportunity to play in the SEA Games again. But as a friend, I understand.”
“But Alvin didn’t like it,” says Cindy of Tin’s decision. “Nanghihinayang siya with the training, the investment [He felt the training and investment had gone to waste]. Tin wept anew because she wanted her dad’s blessing. But everything’s okay now. Alvin supports her 100 percent. So it’s up to her if she wants to come back to tennis.”
Alvin admits it took him some time to warm up on Tin’s decision. And he has strong reasons, notwithstanding his own fling with acting during his stratospheric 1990s rise to hardcourt fame.
“It was more about the timing. At that time, the SEA Games were coming up. And I think people know how I am when it comes to representing the country; it should always be on top of the list,” says this erstwhile member of the Philippine basketball team.
“But whatever Christine and Clarice want, we’re always here to support them. Both of them are hardworking.”
As for Tin, she concedes that it’s not all fun and glamor in showbiz. It may not be as grueling as tennis training, she says, but the demands may well be the same.
“They’re both difficult,” she says. “I’m doing workshops now and I’m starting to understand acting. It’s a discipline and it’s real work. Tennis drains you physically, while acting drains you emotionally. But you put in the same amount of focus and hard work.”
Tin’s commitment has touched even her ambivalent dad.
“Binubuhos nya lahat sa [acting] workshop, luha na lang kulang [She’s giving her all in the workshop, except for the tears],” Alvin says in jest.
He adds: “[Tin’s] enjoying it. She knows that getting into showbiz is an opportunity, that it’s a blessing. So she needs to improve not just in her workshop, but also in her attitude and how to deal with fans. It has to be a total package.”
Clarice is as focused on what she wants: “I enjoy competing,” she says. “An athlete’s life is different, and I like it. I’m proud of my achievements.”
But even if she holds the top spot in the local tennis totem pole, Clarice confesses to game-day jitters especially when she’s playing in the Philippines.
True enough, she has posted most of her big triumphs abroad.
In October 2010 in Hong Kong, Clarice captured her first International Tennis Federation (ITF) juniors singles championship with a tour de force of a performance. Before bagging the crown, she looked every inch doomed against China’s Pu Ze-Xin in the semifinals where she got embarrassingly shut out in the first set, 0-6, and fell behind, 2-5, in the second. Yet in a display of incredible resolve, the then 16-year-old fought back and extended the match. As if playing her underdog tag to a hilt, Clarice again trailed 1-3 in the third set before rallying to win.
“For me, that Hong Kong win is the most memorable of all my tournaments,” she says. “I was happy enough that I made it to the finals. I wasn’t expecting that I’d actually win.”
“Nakakatuwa [It’s heartwarming],” Alvin had said in an interview after his daughter’s thrilling triumph. “She scored her breakthrough win and I really feel this will get her over the hump. I hope this is the start of many victories for her.”
That gut feel proved right. In March 2011, Clarice picked up her second ITF juniors singles title in Brunei. She also emerged as a double bronze medalist in the 2011 SEA Games in Jakarta, on top of winning more honors in local and international fronts.
“When we were playing in the juniors, she was overpowering everyone,” says Santamaria. “But we didn’t expect her to be as dominant now. In the SEA Games, she played the world’s 100-200 ranked players, but she overpowered them. We were really surprised that she was able to beat the defending gold medalist and almost beat the eventual gold medalist.”
Although the triumphs were all her own, there’s no denying that genes come into play.
Aside from Clarice’s athleticism, strength and height, she’s also undeniably a looker, a dusky, 5’10” statuesque beauty. Then there’s her work ethic that she thinks she imbibed from her dad.
“The way we work hard on our sport is the same,” she says.
Alvin agrees that he sees his fearless nature in Clarice.
“She doesn’t want to lose. She wants her shots, her game, to be almost perfect although I tell her that’s not really possible,” he says. “She used to have tantrums. If she doesn’t make the shots she want, sasabog na game niya [her game falls apart]. But she’s slowly getting more mature. And she really wants to represent the country.”
At the same time, Clarice admits it isn’t easy being Alvin’s daughter.
Even if it has been years since Alvin hung up his jersey—nearly a decade, in fact—Pinoy hoop fans remain smitten with this pro great who’s undoubtedly one of the best ever to step on to the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) hardcourt.
His sensational skills coupled with his on-court passion, impressive work ethic, good looks and all-around amiable disposition have made Alvin one of the country’s most loved sports superstars.
“Dad has just so many achievements, [I feel] so many people are expecting a lot from me too,” says Clarice. “My parents always watch [when I compete]. I appreciate that they’re very supportive [but] I just get a bit nervous. Sometimes I get worried about making mistakes. I don’t want to disappoint them.”
Clarice’s concerns, though, aren’t new. The need to measure up seems part of the emotional roller-coaster that children of famous parents go through.
Even Tin admits that the “daughter of” tag occasionally gets to her, too.
“It’s like you’re not the one being recognized,” says Tin. “I’m proud of my dad, but I also want to make a name [for myself]. It’s one reason I joined ‘PBB,’ I want to make my own name.”
Tin, though, finds it amusing how huge an impact his dad has on the Pinoy psyche.
“I have a friend who knows someone who has a picture of my dad in his wallet instead of his girlfriend,” Tin shares with a laugh.
Baffling as it sounds, the Patrimonio girls still get awed by their father’s unmistakable public charm and celebrity.
“They didn’t know the magnitude of their dad’s popularity,” explains Cindy. “While they were growing up, they’re used to seeing fans have their pictures taken with Alvin, but they didn’t see the nationwide and worldwide [adulation] [among overseas Filipino communities]. To them, he’s just a normal dad. When they reached the age when they could have understood who Alvin is, we went to Spain.”
Back in 2005, the Patriomino sisters rigorously trained at the Altur and Alvariño Centro de Tennis in Valencia, Spain.
“We play tennis, study, eat, sleep. That was our life for almost three years in Spain,” recalls Clarice. “Pero never ako nagsawa [I never grew tired of it]. I really enjoyed it.”
Cindy kept the girls company in Spain while Alvin, who by then was working as a PBA team manager of the Purefoods franchise, stayed in Manila with his sons.
“When we came back, that was the only time the girls realized the [weight] of the name they had to carry,” says Cindy.
“We see the trophies but I didn’t know that he was a Hall of Famer and all,” admits Tin, who is now 20. “I realized it late. To me, he was just a normal dad.”
But being normal included some tough love, even some old-fashioned spanking.
“When they were young, niro-rod ko sa kanila [I used a rod for spanking],” recalls Alvin. “But after the rod, I explain to them why I had to do it and what they did wrong. We have house rules and if they don’t follow, they know there’s a penalty,” shares Alvin. “Now, [discipline is] about open communication. It’s more about encouragement and giving advice and constant reminders.”
Normalcy, too, is the one thing Tin hopes to have as she returns to a regular school this year as an AB English freshman at National University. Totally focused on their tennis careers, the Patrimonio sisters had been home-schooled while they trained extensively.
“I’ll go into varsity tennis. But of course, I need to get back in playing shape,” declares Tin, hopeful that she can add tennis to her showbiz-and-studies juggling act.
As for Clarice, she knows her future clearly lies on what she shows on court.
“I know there’s a lot more to come. I just have to be confident with myself and my game,” she says.
With or without their rackets, though, it looks like the Patrimonio sisters are all set to have a ball. •