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Davis Cup: Philippines relegated to regional Group III after 14 years with heartbreaking loss to Tsitsipas-led Greece

FROM L-R: Ruben Gonzales, Francis Casey Alcantara, AJ Lim and Jeson Patrombon of the Philippine Davis Cup team during the opening ceremony of their World Group II Playoff tie vs. Greece. Photo by Jojo Lirio/Smile-Eight Photography
By Kristoffer Ed Bellen

MANILA—The Philippine national tennis team will step down a tier lower in the Davis Cup after yielding a forgettable 1-4 loss to Stefanos Tsitsipas-led Greece at their World Group II Playoff tie at the Philippine Columbian Association in Plaza Dilao, Paco.

After staying inside Group II for most of the time over the last few years, the Philippines, currently ranked as the Top 57 team in the International Tennis Federation (ITF) nations’ rankings, will be relegated back to the Asia/Oceania Group III for the first time since 2006.

The Chris Cuarto-captained team of Jeson Patrombon, Francis Casey Alcantara, Ruben Gonzales, AJ Lim, and Jed Olivarez battled against Tsitsipas, his brother Petros, Markos Kalovelonis, Mikhail Pervolarakis and non-playing skipper Dimitris Chatzinikolaou on Friday and Saturday, where they lost all but the doubles rubber.

With their team down, 0-2, after Day 1, veteran Davis Cup players and long-time national team members Alcantara and Gonzales gave the Philippines a little bit of hope after managing to extend the tie with a hard-fought 7-6(5), 6-4 victory over Petros Tsitsipas and Kalovelonis but the Greeks proved to be too much to handle for the Filipinos.

World number six and five-time ATP titlist Stefanos Tsitsipas paced the Greek charge as he posted two identical 6-2, 6-1 wins over Lim and Patrombon in the first and fourth rubber, respectively, but it was his younger brother, Petros who earned praises from Chatzinikolaou after shocking the country’s number one Patrombon with the same scoreline in the second rubber.

“We are very happy. We did very good matches, especially Petros Tsitsipas. He played very, very good tennis,” said Chatzinikolaou about Petros Tsitsipas, who came in to play the other singles rubber for Greece due to an injury by Pervolarakis.

Tsitsipas, 19, formalized Greece’s victory in the non-bearing final rubber after holding off Davis Cup newcomer Olivarez, 6-4, 7-5.

Meanwhile, Cuarto admitted that his team felt overwhelmed by Greece but he said that this loss was a good exposure and experience for the growth of Philippine tennis moving forward.

“Overwhelmed. I think it’s the right word to say. It’s really tough having a very good player in their team…top six in the world so it’s really tough. I’m quite satisfied naman [with the team]. Syempre, this is a totally new team for us that we played.

“Pero I think it’s a mix of good things and bad things as well. I think this is a good way as well of showcasing our players to a lot of people who watched. I think we’re still okay, we’re not that bad. But, still a lot of things have to be done as well,” Cuarto said.

With the win, Greece will now move on to the World Group II competition in September and will try to make it into the World Group I Playoff next year.

The Philippines, on the other hand, will return to regional Group III competition in June or September where they will try to clinch one of the few regional World Group II Playoff spots next year.

The Philippines have never played in a Group I level of competition in the Davis Cup since 2011 and has since stayed in the Group II after being relegated in 2012.

Follow him on Twitter: @KristoffBellen