Serena Williams, the world’s No.1 female tennis player, may not know much about the Philippines, but she was overwhelmed by the enthusiasm of the crowd that watched her play on Sunday at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.
Williams played for the Singapore Slammers, one of the teams in the new International Premium Tennis League (IPTL).
She rolled out her vaunted power game against the Manila Mavericks’ Kirsten Flipkens, which she defeated handily, 6-3, in the women’s singles match.
Williams’ victory, however, was not enough to lift the Slammers to overall victory, as the Mavericks prevailed, 27-19.
The 33-year-old easily became the darling of the crowd, a role assumed by Russian Maria Sharapova during her two-day stint for the Mavericks earlier.
Flipkens “played really great and the crowd was pumped up. I was pumped up too,” Williams, whose sister Venus is another tennis megastar, told reporters after the match. “She made it really entertaining for the crowd. It was fun.”
“The reception of the crowd has been amazing,” she said. “Everyone’s so nice. Just warming up and hearing the crowd was spectacular and unexpected. I feel honored to feel that. I’ve never played and been here before.”
Serena admitted that she doesn’t have any idea about Philippines, just like most of the tennis stars who arrived in the country on Thursday.
“It’s good to come to countries like this because you realize we have fans everywhere and we never get to come to places where some of the fans are and forget that you do have fans everywhere,” she added. “It feels good to have that opportunity.”
She said she is comfortable with the tournament’s unique format. “I love the team atmosphere. If you lose a match everyone is still positive and that what I love about it,” she said.
Williams encouraged young Filipino tennis players to dream of being world No. 1, although she said it will not be easy. “Being No. 1 is a tough job. It takes a lot of hard work and desire, but I’m sure Filipinos can be on that level,” she said.
Serena’s victory overshadowed the win of Mavericks teammates Andy Murray in the men’s singles, J-Wilfred Tsonga and Filipino-American Treat Huey in men’s doubles, Flipkens and Murray in mixed doubles) and Mark Philippoussis in legend’s singles.
Murray won over Nick Kyrgios, 6-5, while Tsonga and Huey beat Lleyton Hewitt and
Tomas Berdych, 6-5. Flipkens and Murray outlasted Williams and Hewitt, 6-1, and Philippoussis ripped compatriot Patrick Rafter, 6-2.
It was the only victory for the Manila Mavericks after losing to United Arab Emirates Royals (29-24) on Friday and the Micromax Indian Aces (24-15) on Saturday.
Earlier, the Indian Aces swept all matches by beating last assignment the UAE Royals, 28-20.
The tournament will move to Singapore for the second leg.