Cancer survivor rues tennis row

SPORTING CHANCE By Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) | Updated April 19, 2017 - 12:00am

It’s not a well-known fact that Karl Santamaria, who was the Philippine tennis team skipper in the last three Davis Cup ties before withdrawing from the Thailand series two weeks ago, is a cancer survivor.

Santamaria, 38, was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor in his chest when he was 17 and a budding national junior player. Treatment for the same type of cancer that struck cyclist Lance Armstrong was successful and Santamaria went on to play for the UST varsity. But after graduating from school in 2001, he decided to concentrate on coaching. Santamaria took over the UST helm and steered the men’s team to 10 straight finals in 10 seasons, winning seven championships. Then, in 2011, he moved to his present home at NU. Under his watch, NU has won the last four men’s and the last three women’s UAAP championships. Santamaria was coach Roland Kraut’s assistant in the Davis Cup before taking over the main job for three consecutive ties. Aside from his NU duties, Santamaria is tennis standout Niño Alcantara’s personal coach.

Santamaria said he would’ve liked to skipper the Davis Cup team in the recent duel with Thailand but backed out when Philta (Philippine Tennis Association) officer-in-charge Romy Magat wanted to fly the delegation two days before the start of the tournament.

“I’m not part of the Philta coaching staff,” he said. “I’m not a national coach. I’m not employed by Philta and I’m not on their payroll. I’m a volunteer and I do what I can for our country, for the honor and prestige of working with the national team. I was asked by Philta to submit a budget for the Davis Cup and I estimated between $5,000 to 6,000 without provision for plane tickets. That included expenses for supplies, uniforms and per diems. I wanted the team to fly to Thailand at least 10 days before the tournament but Philta rejected it, obviously to save money. Philta wanted the team to fly in on Wednesday for the first official function. So what time would we have to practice with the tournament starting on Friday? Philta told me anyway, we’re used to Thailand and we didn’t need to acclimatize.”

Santamaria said he reached out to Treat Huey, Ruben Gonzales and Alcantara to play against Thailand. They were the country’s mainstays in beating Indonesia, 4-1, in the first round of the Asia/Oceania Group II playoffs here last February. But one by one, they declined. “Treat was advised to rest for two weeks because of a bad back, coming from a tournament in Miami, so he couldn’t come,” he said. “Ruben and Niño were playing in Bahrain. Jeson (Patrombon), who’s based in Taipei, was playing in Jakarta. Jeson checked out of his hotel but had no flight back to Manila so I had to pay for it.

“Niño played in Egypt before Bahrain and had a swelling in his wrist so he ended up taking a rest at home in Cagayan de Oro. Ruben flew to Manila, stayed for about a week then left. He hasn’t been reimbursed for expenses he advanced in Philta’s behalf over a year ago. It’s the same thing with Treat. On my part, I’ve also advanced about $1,000. None of us has been paid back.”

When Magat couldn’t confirm a budget for Thailand, Santamaria said he was left on soft footing. “Was I supposed to advance money again?” he wondered. “So I decided I can’t do this any longer. I’m supposed to coach the team, not pay for expenses. It’s very demoralizing. When we compete in a tournament abroad, players shouldn’t worry about expenses, they should focus on their game, that’s all.”

As it turned out, the Philippines sent a hastily-formed team made up of Patrombon, A. J. Lim and P. J. Tierro to Thailand and was wiped out in a 5-0 thrashing. It was the first shutout loss for the Philippines since New Zealand in Group I of the Asia/Oceania zone in 2011. The loss meant the Philippines will stay in Group II for another year.

“Something has to happen in Philta,” he said. “We can’t go with the status quo. Change has to happen for the betterment of Philippine tennis. Players can’t be handled the way they’re being treated right now. Someone with vision, passion and a plan of action has to come in to replace the leaders of today. I think Jean Henri Lhuiller is in a position to make a difference.”

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