Arcilla gets first crack at visiting Syrian team

LAPU-LAPU City, Cebu. – In-form veteran Johnny Arcilla gets the first crack at the visiting Syrian squad when he faces Issam Taweel in the opening singles kicking off their Asia-Oceania Group 2 Davis Cup tie on Friday at the Plantation Bay Resort and Spa shell court here.

Arcilla, who made his Davis Cup debut at the tender age of 18 in 2000 and won last month’s PCA Open at the expense of Fil-Am teammate Treat Huey, tackles Taweel, No. 925 in the Association of Tennis Professional ratings, at 3:30 p.m. to usher in the best-of-5 series.

“Parang hometown ko na rin ang Cebu kasi dito ako lumaki in the eighties kaya excited din akong maglaro sa opening singles,” said Arcilla, whose father comes from nearby Mandaue, as he tries to set the tone for the Cebuana Lhuillier-Philipppine squad.

Marking his third year in Davis Cup play, Fil-Am Ruben Gonzales, 27, who was named No. 1 by non-playing team captain Roland Kraut in Thursday’s draw graced by Lapu-Lapu City Mayor Paz Redaza, takes on France-based Marc Abdelnour in the second singles.

Barring any last-minute changes, Gonzales will face Taweel and Arcilla will be up against Abdelnour in the reverse singles on Sunday inside this plush seaside resort overlooking the Mactan Channel.

Named to play in Saturday’s doubles beginning at 6 a.m. were Huey and Vic Anasta, who will clash against the Syrian tandem of Abdelnour and Majdi Salim.

“I’m okay playing in the doubles. I just want to do what’s best for the team,” said the southpaw Huey, who has been a regular singles fixture for the Nationals and was ranked No. 16 together with Englishman partner Dennis Inglot in doubles last year by the ATP.

Kraut said he had no qualms in naming Arcilla to play in the first singles “although I believe all four of our players are ready to play.”

“Playing in the opening singles might be good for Johnny since it will take the pressure of him instead of seeing action in the second singles,” noted national coach and former Davis Cup skipper Cris Cuarto, who is here to provide moral support. “Everything is going as planned.”

Philippine Tennis Association secretary general Romy Magat joined the chorus of Arcilla’s supporters, saying: “Batak si Johnny and I believe he will do well tomorrow.”

The Nationals had lost twice in Davis Cup play on same court in 2011 but Magat expressed optimism the Filipino netters would be finally break the jinx “and win in our third time here.”

Kraut refused to predict the final outcome, noting the top two Syrian players had been playing in Europe “and looked impressive during their practice here.”

Speaking on behalf Syrian non-playing team captain Feras Dahbos, Abdelnour, 24, who has a No. 963 rating, said they are unfamiliar with the play of the Filipinos, whom they will face for the first time in Davis Cup play.

“We just got promoted to Group 2 for the first time and hope to stay here a little while longer,” Abdelnour quoted Dahbos as saying.

Accustomed to hard court, the Syrian skipper added this was the reason why they came as early as Monday so his players could adjust to the shellcourt surface similar to what is being used at the Philippine Columbian Association indoor courts.

Although coming from a Middle East country wracked by civil war, Dahbos said their Davis Cup preparations were not disrupted since their training center in Damascus is far from the conflict, while Taweel, whose mother is Egyptian, and Abdelnour are based in Egypt and France, respectively.

Philta vice president and Davis Cup administrator Randy Villanueva said that coverage of the tie will be posted on Youtube under the heading of “Philippine vs. Syria Davis Cup tie,” while other details of the three-day event can be accessed through the Philta Facebook site.


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