MANILA, Philippines — Bryan Otico wrote a new chapter in Philippine tennis history as he became the first unseeded player to win the PCA Open men’s singles title with the widest age gap of 14 years from veteran Davis Cupper P. J. Tierro whom the Bukidnon upstart beat, 6-4, 6-3, 3-6, 3-6, 6-4 in a marathon final at the Philippine Columbian center court in Paco last Sunday.
Otico, 18, was down, 0-40, on his serve and trailed, 1-4 with Tierro, 32, ready to break. Tierro would’ve served for the match in the next game if he broke Otico. But Otico, who used to play money games when he was 10 to earn some cash, held serve miraculously then swept Tierro the rest of the way to pocket the P100,000 first prize.
“I had nothing to lose,” said Otico. “He was slicing his backhand returns on my serve so I knew he wouldn’t hit winners. I put pressure on his return of serve with my forehand. It was the longest match I’ve ever played – four hours. I told myself not to panic, to just stay focused.”
Otico’s coach Jun Toledo said the key was outlasting Tierro. “P. J.’s biggest weapon is his serve and we couldn’t afford for him to keep holding serve,” he said. “P. J. played smart. He didn’t chase drop shots, he conserved his energy. He stayed away from long rallies and looked for short points. So Bryan had to counter by mixing up his shots and keeping P. J. off-balance, putting the ball in the corners. P. J. is deadly when the ball is in the middle. When P. J. had break point in the sixth set, I told Bryan to go for broke, to give it his all, to make bomba his shots. When Bryan held serve, P. J. started to question line calls, trying to buy time to rest. I knew it was just a matter of time.”
Rommie Chan, a stalwart of the Philippine Tennis Academy (PTA) that supports Otico, said college offers are now pouring in from the US for the teener. “We’ve got a full-time tutor to prepare Bryan for the SATs,” said Chan. “He’s now the country’s No. 1 player and he’ll only get better with the competition in the US NCAA.” Otico is in Grade 11 at La Salle Zobel Night School and stays in Chan’s Ayala Alabang home with other PTA prodigies. Chan, Oscar Hilado and Hanky Lee are among the PTA benefactors.
The win was no fluke as early this month, Otico stormed back from a set down and was behind, 3-5, in the second set to defeat Tierro, 6-7, 7-5, 6-3 for the Pintaflores crown in San Carlos City. In 1982, Manny Tolentino was 16 when he toppled Ody Gabriel, 28, for the PCA title but the age difference between Otico and Tierro was two years more.
On the way to the PCA final, Otico mowed down Feb Wendel Deja, 6-0, 6-0, 16th seed Rolando Ruel, 6-1, 6-3, 4th seed Toto Joven, 7-6, 6-3, 6th seed Onyok Anasta, 6-2, 6-4 and 7th seed Leander Lazaro, 6-1, 7-5. Tierro, the defending champion, was Otico’s last victim.
“Bryan was a young boy from Maramag, Bukidnon, with a knack for hitting tennis balls,” said PTA executive director Andy Maglipon. “He used to take four-hour bus rides from Maramag to Davao City every weekend for training. Now, he’s won at least two singles and two doubles championships in ITF junior events.”
Otico said he’s looking forward to a long career in tennis but his other dream is to unite his family. His father Ruben has languished in a Bukidnon jail the last four years but may soon be released as it now appears he was framed on a drug charge. His mother Berlie is an OFW in Bangkok while his brother Jericho, 14, and sister Jannah, 6, live in Bohol with an aunt. Tennis is Otico’s vehicle to bring his family back together again.