|Marian Capadocia, center, leads the cast of the Filipinos who will play in Jakarta.|
By: Kristoffer Ed Bellen
MANILA—For only the second time in their country's history, the Indonesian National Olympic Committee is set to host the 18th installment of the quadrennial Asian Games at Jakarta and Palembang, Indonesia on Aug. 18-Sept. 2.
With a total of 45 participating nations in the 16-day affair on top of 11,500 delegates aiming to bring pride and honor to their respective countries, this year's Asia's regional sporting tournament is envisioned "to enhance the ability of Asian athletes and promote mutual understanding through fair competition."
The 2018 Asian Games will be played in 49 different venues—39 in Jakarta while 10 in Palembang—through 462 sporting events across 40 sports, including five events from tennis.
As the action begins today with the opening ceremony at the Gelora Bung Karno Main Stadium in Jakarta, here are some early takeaways about the things that the Philippine national tennis team will face at the Asiad:
1. A depleted field
Various top Asian tennis players recently announced their absence at this year's Asian Games as they are taking their time to prepare for the final Grand Slam event of the season with the US Open nearing its start on August 27.
In a recent report, Japan said that they will not field their top seven players in the men's division as former world number 4 Kei Nishikori and defending Asian Games men's singles champion Yoshihito Nishioka will call the Asian Games a miss.
#NextGenATP's first ever champion Hyeon Chung, who won the men's doubles gold medal at the 2014 Asian Games in Korea with compatriot Lim Yong-kyu, is also set to miss this year's edition as he tries to bounce back from a disappointing season after enduring his blisters injury at the Australian Open which obviously affected his previous months on tour.
On the other hand, the women's side will also feature a few of its stars as Naomi Osaka, who is enjoying her biggest career so far highlighted by a life-changing first round win against Serena Williams in Miami last March, will lead the cast of who will sit out of the tournament.
Joining the world number 17 will be Chinese Taipei's Su-Wei Hsieh, Kazakhstan's Yulia Putintseva and Zarina Diyas and China's Zheng Saisai.
Yet, despite of the obviously downsized field at the JSC Tennis Court in Jakabaring City, Palembang, the Philippines will still need to overcome a tall wall in order to end the country's long drought in the Asiad tennis.
Players like world number 76 Dennis Istomin of Uzbekistan as well as China's women core of 32nd ranked Shuai Zhang, 53rd ranked and defending champion Wang Qiang, 93rd ranked Wang Qafan are all expected to dominate the tournament.
Not to mention, India, which only managed to pull off a total of three medals in the event four years ago, will welcome the return of its veteran tennis players such as former doubles Grand Slam titlist Rohan Bopanna as well as up and coming star Ankita Raina.
2. Answering the call
With the main draw expected to come out anytime soon, the Philippine national tennis team is now setting their sight to deliver once again for the country.
Philippines' top doubles player Francis Casey Alcantara will lead the Philippine team along with veteran tennis player Jeson Patrombon and former two-time UAAP Most Valuable Player AJ Lim, while Filipino-German Katharina Lehnert, and Marian Capadocia complete the country's line-up.
Lehnert, who was once regarded to be the next Maria Sharapova with their similar play style way back in the 2015 SEA Games, will be the only player remaining from the country's team in 2014.
Alcantara, Patrombon, and Lim—all playing in their first ever Asian Games—will replace the seats once taken by Treat Huey, Ruben Gonzales, and Patrick John Tierro.
The Philippine 5 will try to bounce back from the country's poor finish at the 2014 Asian Games by obviously relying on the country's fresh talent this year.
3. A whole new challenge
In 2014, the Philippines only managed to go beyond the Round of 16 once when Huey and Gonzales reached the quarterfinals of the men's doubles, only to succumb to an 0-2 defeat against eventual gold medallists Chung and Lim of South Korea.
The closest to reach the elite eight was Huey and Gonzales, themselves, as well when the former partnered with current Arizona Women's Tennis assistant coach Denise Dy while the latter teamed up with Lehnert at the mixed doubles category.
Both duo qualified for the third round before exiting in their respective matches.
This year, though, the Philippine team will bank on a rather fresh but experienced talent with most of this year's players coming off from a lot of tournaments in the ITF Pro Circuit and the Davis and Fed Cup.
Alcantara, who missed the call in the 2014 due to his studies at the Pepperdine University, will try to lead the team in the doubles event as he tops the team with the most titles in the international pro league in 2018 so far.
The Chris Cuarto-led Philippine tennis team will start their campaign tomorrow, August 19, at the first round of the men's and women's singles tournament.
Follow him on Twitter: @KristoffBellen