Tennis isn't exactly a contact sport.
But Jonica Martina Guba literally had a bloody debut. It happened seven years ago when Guba, a six-year-old playing in a 10-Under unisex tournament, was so eager to change ends that she failed to see the three-foot-six high wire bridging the net and the pole. She slammed her nose into the wire, prompting blood to ooze from her nose.
For the faint-hearted, the experience would have been traumatic.
But not for Jonica Martina, who felt she was made for tennis and was even named after three greats of the sport --- American Johan Creek, Frenchman Yannick Noah and Swiss miss Martina Hingis.
Guba, with her all enthusiasm and passion for the sport, shrugged off the injury but lost a one-sided encounter with a boy two years older than her.
"I just wanted to keep on playing. I didn't want to retire in my first actual match," Guba, who was born 14 years ago in the sugar-producing city of La Carlota in Negros Occidental, told the DAILY STAR.
Guba first touched a junior tennis racket at the age of two due to the prodding of her father, Socrates, a former varsity standout from Cebu.
Months later, she was walling the ball at a decrepit pelota court at the Central Azucarera de La Carlota, a stone throw away from their home.
"I wanted her to feel the racket early. She can do whatever she wants with the racket and its still training for her," said Socrates, whose two sons, Yannick and Johan, have also made their mark in the age-group scene.
The early training slowly but surely paid off.
Two years after her bloody experience, Martina emerged as Western Visayas' top girls' 12-Under player, underscoring that tag by working her way to a bronze medal finish in the 2002 Palarong Pambansa in Naga City.
Martina earned raves for her feat and Socrates fielded her to major age-group events in Manila.
But after successful Big City stints in 2002 and 2003, she had to settle for local tournaments for two years because her mother, Nimfa, who accompanies her in all out-of-town events had to undergo surgery to correct her spinal column.
"I was looking forward to more tournaments but I knew my mother's condition was far important than tennis," Martina said. When she returned to the summer circuit, an unranked Guba --- armed with solid groundstrokes --- made heads turn, winning the national 14-Under crown in 2005 as a 12-year-old. She also won the Palarong Pambansa crown that year at the expense of Regina Santiago.
In her first international campaign in Malaysia, Guba ruled the Selangor Age-Group Tournament in December but flu slowed her down in the Perlis and Langkawi events, where she surrendered the singles crowns to compatriot Sally Mae Siso. She teamed up with Siso for three doubles titles.
Martina, though, wasn't satisfied. "I wanted to match Yannick's record," she said, referring to her older brother's record of six crowns in the same circuit.
But Socrates believes Martina can go further.
"She has stronger groundstrokes for her age. We just need to work on her speed, footwork and serve," the older Guba added.
Martina overcame tough qualifying tournaments in Manila last month to clinch a berth in the 14-Under and 16-Under events of the World Juniors Championship Asia Oceana in India from April 21-28 and the Junior Federation Cup from May 8-13 in Malaysia.
"We hope that these tournaments open up more opportunities for her especially in the India tournament where the top two finishers will be given a chance to play in European tournaments," Socrates said.
Martina also knows the tournament could be the start of something bigger for her, a step that could bring closer to a lifelong dream of playing against the future Hall-of-Famer she was named after.
"I hope to play in Wimbledon, perhaps against Martina Hingis," Guba added. * CPT