Saturday, May 06, 2006

PJ Tierro, rising star of tennis

By Manolo Iñigo - Inquirer

IF BASKETBALL did not captivate them, (Carlos) Loyzaga, (Robert) Jaworski, (Ramon) Fernandez, (Alvin) Patrimonio and (Rico) Villanueva could have been famous too in another sport like tennis because they have the height and build. They could have been world-class players competing in the Wimbledon, French Open, US Open, Australian Open and all the other ATP events.

PJ Tierro is aiming to realize that goal. With his long reach and towering height, this 6-foot-1 athlete from Olongapo City is slowly but surely reaching that target. Now the country's No. 1 tennis player, the 20-year-old Tierro has moved up in the ATP ladder to 927th from his previous 1,171.

Tierro is supported by a dedicated group of trainers, coaches and sponsors. He is now on his third year of a five-year development program run by veteran tennis coach Beeyong Sison and bankrolled by sportsman Jean Henri Lhuillier.

Under the program, Tierro is trained to acquire playing skills not only by the typical training workouts but by competing in actual tournaments here and abroad. The team believes that for Tierro to learn more about the game, he should travel to other countries and play in different surfaces such as clay, shell and grass against some of the world's top netters and under all playing conditions.

"I personally believe in PJ's talent," said Lhuillier. "He has the heart and dedication to pursue excellence in his sport. Provided with the right training and exposure, PJ will reach his full potential."

The Filipino gained the attention of former Wimbledon champion Pat Cash while attending the Pat Cash Tennis Academy in Brisbane in 2003. "Tierro is definitely a talent with a world-class forehand," Cash said. It was also in 2003 when Tierro's potential was first noticed. He reached the finals of the Cebuana Lhuillier Men's Circuit where he lost to then No. 1 ranked Johnny Arcilla. Tierro advanced to the finals after beating then No. 2 and Davis Cup player Joseph Victorino in the semifinals.

In 2004, Tierro played in the Davis Cup Zonals where he defeated Hong Kong's Hiu Tung (ATP 970), capping the year with a nail-biting 6-4, 5-7, 6-4 victory over Rolando Ruel in the finals of the Spex-Philta Open. In his travels to Europe, Tierro spent a total of 10 weeks in Germany competing in non-ATP/ITF Open tournaments that boosted his confidence. He took part in his first ATP/ITF event in the latter part of 2004 during the $25,000 India Satellite Circuit where he played alongside ATP ranked players.

2005 was a busy year for Tierro. He practically lived in a suitcase, playing in various local tournaments and in several Asian countries such as Indonesia, India, Thailand and Japan as part of the country's preparation for the 23rd Southeast Asian Games. That paid off as Tierro, together with Johnny Arcilla and Fil-American netters Cecil Mamiit and Eric Taino, won the SEA Games' team gold medal. The team's strong showing revived interest in the sport and boosted our chances as well of making good in the coming Doha Asian Games.

"I'm so thankful that I have the support of my parents (Bayani and Melba Tierro), coaches and sponsors, especially sir Jean Jenri, in pursuing my career in tennis," Tierro said.

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