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Rondina, Pons go down fighting in Boracay Open quarterfinals

BORACAY - Sisi Rondina and Bernadeth Pons left everything in the sand court before bowing Japan's Sakurako Fujii and Minori Kumada, 17-21, 19-21, ending the Philippines' campaign in the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour Boracay Open presented by Globe Saturday at the White House Beach Station 1 here. The country matched its best Beach World Tour finish of fifth place in the Manila Open 1-star last year with Rondina and Dzi Gervacio. Incidentally, Sakurako and Shinako Tanaka were the pair that eliminated Rondina and Gervacio.

"We are still grateful that we played against them. We gained experience," said Rondina in Tagalog.

Rondina and Pons finished their international debut as partners with two victories. They pulled off a dominant 21-18, 21-6 win over Ekaterina Filina and Ekaterina Zazhigina of Russia to clinch a spot in the quarterfinals after losing to Japan's Satono Ishitsubo and Asami Shiba, 16-21, 19-21, earlier in the day. "We didn't fall behind. We didn't lose by a wide margin. We showed we could compete. We just need longer preparation and exposure in international tournaments," said Pons.

Sakurako and Minori, who have paired for six events this year, were really pushed to the limit against Rondina and Pons, the highly-popular Filipina pair who reunited in the four-day tournament organized by the Beach Volleyball Republic.

"Rondina was tough," said Sakurako. "She improved her defense. I remember last year, she was good in digging. She also improved in receiving." "It's an honor, especially if a Japanese said it. Beach volleyball in Japan is different. It's an honor for our performance to be appreciated by Japan," said Rondina, a four-time UAAP beach volleyball MVP while playing for University of Santo Tomas.

The Japanese were still able to progress to Sunday's semifinals despite the loud cheers for the Rondina-Pons tandem by the home crowd.

"Everybody was cheering for the Philippines. But we just focused in our game," said Sakurako. Rondina and Pons became the last Filipina team standing after Bea Tan and Dij Rodriguez bowed to reigning two-time Asian U21 champions Pawarun Chanthawichai and Thatsarida Singchuea of Thailand, 12-21, 12-21, in the other Round of 12 duel.

Playing like a well-oiled machine, Tan and Rodriguez cruised to a 21-7, 21-15 win over Malaysia's Tan Hsi Yan and Tasha Mae, in the morning session to give the Philippines another slot in the Round of 12. Jackie Estoquia and DM DemontaƱo dropped a heartbreaking 14-21, 21-19, 13-15 loss to Filina and Zazhigina in the final pool match that eliminated the Iloilo tandem.

Leaving behind a heartbreaking 21-17, 13-21, 14-16 loss to Singapore's Eliza Chong and Lau Ee Shan in last Friday's opener, Tan and Rodriguez were in the zone on both ends of the sand court to send the Malaysians packing, while keeping the three-time Beach Volleyball Republic On Tour champions in the competition.

Rondina and Pons went toe to toe with world No. 86 Ishitsubo and Shiba in both sets, but the Japanese were simply too classy and remained undefeated. Rondina and Pons opened their campaign with a 21-14, 21-8 conference of Japan's Shinako Tanaka and Miyuki Matsumura Friday.