AN EVENING  WITH FORMER NO. 1 TENNIS STAR FELIX BARRIENTOS
 

MANILA, APRIL 18, 2010 (STAR) SPORTING CHANCE By Joaquin Henson - The other night, the country’s former No. 1 tennis player Felix Barrientos and his wife Reggie hosted a dinner for friends at their Makati home. Barrientos, now based in Singapore as executive director of LGT Bank in Liechtenstein, is in town for a visit and meetings with clients.

Barrientos, 42, didn’t only prepare the menu----a vegetable salad, pumpkin soup, lamb with mashed potatoes and a platter of pastries----but also cooked the food which by the way, was excellent. He wore a white sportscoat during the meal, dutifully acting out his role as host, chef and butler. Barrientos treated his guests to red wine, white wine and champagne from his private collection.

Since ending a storybook tennis career, Barrientos has been involved in banking. He worked for Citibank and Banque Baring Brothers before moving to LGT Bank which specializes in private banking and wealth and asset management. The bank’s main office is in the principality of Liechtenstein, an alpine constitutional monarchy in Western Europe bordered by Switzerland and Austria. LGT Bank is the largest family-owned private wealth and asset management institution in Europe and employs a work force of 1,700 in 29 offices in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and the US.

Barrientos attended Colegio de San Agustin in Makati and Louisiana State University (LSU) on a tennis scholarship then earned a master’s degree in business administration at the Ateneo Graduate School in 1999.

Once ranked the No. 6 juniors player in the world, Barrientos powered the Davis Cup team to 4-1 victories over Japan and China in the Asia-Oceania Group I bracket in 1991, leading the Philippines to a slot in the World Group----a rare achievement. He played in the Davis Cup from 1984 to 1993, compiling an overall record of 26 wins and 10 losses, including an 18-5 mark in singles. Barrientos showed the way in the Philippines’ victories over Singapore in 1984, Thailand and Malaysia in 1985, Hong Kong and China in 1989, Japan and China in 1991 and Taiwan and Japan in 1993.

Barrientos captured the gold medal in men’s singles and teamed with LSU partner Roland So for the men’s doubles title at the 1991 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games. In 1993, he took the gold medal with Jean Marie Lozano in the mixed doubles and headed the men’s team that also struck gold at the SEA Games.

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A one-time Wimbledon juniors semifinalist, Barrientos went up as high as No. 180 in the world pro rankings in 1991 when he beat American Kevin Curren, 1-6, 6-1, 7-5, at the Hong Kong Open and faced former Wimbledon champion Pat Cash of Australia in the Stella Artois tournament at the Queens Club in West Kensington, London, in a televised center court match. Cash was the 1987 Wimbledon champion and a grasscourt expert. Barrientos qualified for the main draw after surviving three eliminators. He dropped a 6-1, 6-4 decision to Cash.

A few years ago, Cash was in Manila for a visit and during a reception at the Manila Polo Club, recognized Barrientos in the crowd. “I was all the way at the back and Pat pointed me out,” said Barrientos. “Of course, I was thrilled. At the time we played, the tennis players who were ranked in the world’s top 200 knew each other, growing up together, playing one another on tour.”

A highlight of Barrientos’ playing career was battling Patrick McEnroe in the 1988 NCAA finals at the Henry Field Stadium in Athens, Georgia. Barrientos was on the LSU varsity and McEnroe with Stanford. LSU made it to the finals after disposing of UCLA and the University of Michigan, among others. Barrientos came back from a 6-2 loss in the first set to clinch the match by taking the next two sets, 6-3, 6-4. But in the overall team scores, Stanford wound up claiming the title.

“After losing the first set, I realized Patrick’s forehand wasn’t as good as his backhand so I made the adjustment and it worked,” recalled Barrientos. “We played at the University of Georgia and to this day, our pictures and our names are on the walls of the facility where there is a listing of the finalists of every NCAA tournament. Patrick went on to become the current US Davis Cup coach.”

Barrientos named Rod Laver, John McEnroe, Pete Sampras and Roger Federer as the greatest ever to play the game.

“They were born to play the game,” he said. “Tennis came naturally to them. Players like Bjorn Borg and Boris Becker worked hard to improve their game but weren’t as naturally gifted. John McEnroe was a great player and a good guy. He really wasn’t bratty. I think those things he did on the court were just for show.”

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Barrientos said his most embarrassing moment in tennis was when he was struck on the head by the ball on Greg Rusedski’s 120 miles-per-hour booming serve. He also remembered joining doubles partner Raymond Suarez to hit balls with Borg in a 2-on-1 practice once in Hong Kong. “I played with the latest $500 boron high-tech racket and Borg used his old wooden racket with a small face,” he said. “But Raymond and I made all the mistakes and Borg played flawlessly.”

Borg was once Barrientos’ “boss.” The Filipino was the first Asian signed to a contract by Borg’s management team. Several years ago, Borg was in Manila to play an exhibition with McEnroe and Barrientos teamed with Suarez in the doubles preliminary against Ilie Nastase and Manuel Orantes.

While Barrientos was in Monaco with wife Reggie on their honeymoon in 2002, he bumped into Nastase, Tim Henman and Guillermo Vilas and they all got reacquainted like old buddies who hadn’t connected in ages. Reggie, a lawyer, was star-struck when she was introduced to the tennis legends.

As a private banker with 14 years of experience, Barrientos travels the world visiting clients, updating them on their accounts and discussing options to make their funds grow. He still plays tennis but now, his passion has shifted to golf.

Barrientos’ two boys Diego, 6, and Alejandro, 4, have started to take up tennis but not on their father’s prodding. They’re enjoying the game because their friends play it, too.

“We’re not pushing the boys to tennis,” said Reggie. “It’s their decision what sport they want to play. I remember when they showed up for their first tennis lessons at the Makati Sports Club, a big crowd gathered to watch because everyone knew they were Felix’ kids. What’s important is they have fun and play without the pressure of being Felix’ sons.”

Barrientos is a prime example of a star athlete who became successful in life after sports. Throughout his playing career, he never lost sight of the future, preparing for a career outside of tennis with a solid education. Now, he is reaping the rewards of his foresight.

Barrientos has left a rich legacy as a tennis player and is currently making his mark in private banking. “I owe a lot to tennis,” he said. “In fact, many of my Hong Kong clients remember having watched me play and it’s a connection that brought us together in banking.” No doubt, the discipline, skill, intelligence and work ethic he showed on the court are what make him a much-sought-after private banker today.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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