MAIKA JAE TANPOCO had a dream.
It all began when she was just a toddler.
Her father was channel surfing on their cable TV while at home in Angeles, Pampanga.
Two-year-old Maika then caught a glimpse of women’s professional tennis game between Steffi Graf and Monica Seles.
She got hooked on the game, and watched the match with her dad.
“I told my dad I wanted to be like them when I grew up. Since then, I would wake up early in the morning to play tennis. My Dad saw my potential after that,” said Maika during an awarding ceremony last Saturday, June 1 at the Marriott Hotel in Pasay City.
Fifteen years later, Maika’s dream of becoming a professional tennis player is about to become a reality.
With the help of coach Manny Tecson and the Tennis Academy of the Philippines Foundation (TAPF), Maika is about to embark on a quest to fulfill that dream.
Now ranked 270 in the world, in the junior girls circuit, Maika will try to become the first Filipina to play professionally in recent years after Dyan Castillejo tried her luck in 1987.
Her bid will begin when she plays in two $10,000 ITF Futures tournaments in Bangkok, Thailand from June 24 to 30, and from July 1 to 7.
“I now have this opportunity to be a pro and do what I dreamed of when I was a child,” said Maika during the festivities which feted her and teammates at the TAPF who swept all the medals in the recent 2013 POC-PSC Philippine National Games tennis competitions.
She began her playing career at the local club, Villa Gloria in Angeles City. Her first coach showed her how to execute a forehand stroke. Her Dad was excited about the possibility of her becoming a pro. People at the club doubted Maika, and told her that her dreams were unrealistic.
But Maika continued with her training, and at age nine, she was playing every year in Australia.
Her world ranking reached 300 when Maika was 15. But, her game went bad when she went to Thailand for nine months with her father. A brief relationship with a Thai boyfriend, admitted Maika, distracted her and ruined her game.
She was about to give up and instead focus on going to college when she and her father met coach Manny last year in Bandung, Indonesia.
In a Group 4 tournament, the sixth seeded Tanpoco was badly beaten, 6-1, 6-0, by Chinese bet Qui Yu We in the ITF Oneject tournament. Qui had a ranking that was between 500 and 800 at that time.
Tecson spoke to her Dad and Maika. He wanted to help on her game. This proved to be a game changer for Maika as Tecson worked on having her play an aggressive style.
“Before, I was more of a loopy ball clay courter. I was 10 feet behind the baseline when I play. I was a defense-oriented. But the really strong players always attack. I changed my style. Now I stand three to five feet away and I have added a spin on the ball,” said Tanpoco.
The changes in her game bore fruit, with her winning one international girls title last month, and then the women’s doubles and the mixed doubles plums of the POC-PSC Philippine National Games.
In November 2012, Maika encountered the most challenging moment in her young playing career. Two highly ranked netters stood in her way in the 2012 ITF Summit Planners tournament in Singapore.
First she got past Australia’s best, Priscilla Hon, 6-3, 6-2, and then the fearsome Yu Xiao De of China. A 6-3, 6-3 upset in the second round later saw her advancing to the finals.
A 2-6, 6-4, 6-3 win over Indonesian Efriliya Herlina in the finals eventually gave Maika her first ever international crown.
Last week, during the 2013 POC-PSC Philippine National Games, Maika and her partner won the women’s doubles at the expense of Marian Jade Capadocia and Edlyn Balanga.
She and TAPF teammate PJ Tierro then took the mixed doubles from Capadocia and Davis Cupper Elbert Anasta.
In embarking on a professional career, Maika said school will have to wait, and as she gives her dream a chance. Offers from schools in the United States have been set aside at the moment, so have scholarship grants from schools in Metro Manila.
“I never knew that this will be a reality because I was going to stop. But, coach is giving me a chance now. Hopefully, I can vindicate myself and show that I deserve to be here,” said Maika.
While former Zamboanga congressman Romeo Jalosjos was in prison, he envisioned of a way to redeem himself from society by putting up a foundation which would reach out to talented athletes by giving coaching scholarships to deserving athletes, and helping them compete in international tournaments.
Slowly, he worked on his ideas as well. Eight tennis courts were built for inmates while Jalosjos was serving time. These courts served as past times for inmates when they were idle, and were maintained when his time in jail was up.
His plans led him to Tecson, who used to handle the national team. Tecson was convinced that Jalosjos’ ideas about a foundation will work with proper funding, free board and lodging and the right facilities in Muntinlupa.
Three years ago, the program was able to develop Iligan prospect Jeson Patrombon, who eventually become the world ninth ranked junior player in 2010. He managed to reach world no.995 in his two years as a pro, and under the care of the TAPF.
The TAPF is now working hard to find more talented athletes who can take the place of Patrombon which is why Tecson talked to Maika.
“Yes, I would say that the program is flowering, and it will bear fruit when we have a player who is winning the grand slam,” said Jalosjos. He said that he is prepared to sustain the program, which long range and could last up to 10 years.
Jalosjos said that after that following the success of the program with the likes of Maika, they are now prepared to accept talents who can be as young as six years old.
“Our investment on players will now start when they are young. Now we are looking for potential, and now emphasizing on young girls,” Jalosjos said.
Tecson said he is amazed at the way Maika progressed in the months that he has handled her, and how she carried herself during the recent National Games.
“She played with her heart out, and with intensity,” said Tecson, who added that Maika will someday be part of the national team even as she achieves her dream.