Meet Mark Alcala, U.S. Nationals Men's Singles Champion

Feb. 02, 2018, 3:11 p.m. (ET)

Mark Alcala won first place at Philippines Nationals in men’s singles, open division, when he was 14. Due to duration of residency requirements, 2017 was the first year in which Marky was eligible to compete at the U.S. Nationals.  In October, Marky took first place in Men’s Singles and, with Olympian Jamie Subandhi, also won mixed doubles at the 2017 Yonex U.S. Nationals Badminton Championships.  

Badminton official and enthusiast Jack Forbes sat down with Alcala for an interview after those wins.

JACK: What is the earliest memory you have playing badminton?
MARKY: When I was six years old I told my dad I wanted to try badminton.  He feeds me a bird and suddenly, I could hit the birdie right away and I got interested.  I told my dad, “Oh dad, I want to keep doing this.”

JACK: Had you seen your sister play at that point?
MARKY: Oh yes, yes. She’s my idol and I really look up to her and everything she does, I follow her. Her name is Malvinne Ann Venice Alcala.  She still plays now, but not like before because now she’s more focused on her studies.

JACK: Has your father, Malvin Alcala, been your main coach in badminton?
MARKY: Yes, but I have had two other coaches.  One is Malaysian, Yogen Krishnan, who coached me when I was 9 or 10.  Also, Rudy Gunawan, an Indonesian coach for a year when I was 7 to 8 years old.  

JACK: What did it mean to you to have your father as your coach, knowing he was a past singles player on the Philippines National Badminton Team?
MARKY: It really means [a lot], because without him, I would be not here.  Because of him every day telling me to focus, you have to pursue your dream.  And he’d always keep telling me those things.  That’s why I’m still motivated to train.  He would encourage me and tell me I had the ability to do this.

JACK: What role has your mother, Shirly, played in your development as a person and as a badminton player?
MARKY: As well, she’s my inspiration and she’s always taking care of me.  It really, really helps when she’s beside us because without her, we don’t know how to live.

JACK: From a technical standpoint, what has been special about your father’s coaching in badminton?
MARKY: It’s different from other coaches.  The love is there as a father and son, but also the coach[ing] is there.  

JACK: What have you personally brought to badminton?
MARKY: I just stay focused and give all my best.  I have a willingness to win the game.  

JACK: I watched you in one of your games at the Nationals and you must have covered 20 feet in one jump to attack a net drop, and I saw such an eagerness in you.
MARKY (laughs): Yes, I really, really wanted to win the game.  Not “I need to,” I want to.  That’s why.

JACK: What is the difference, for you, in playing a game in a tournament versus playing a recreational game of badminton with friends?
MARKY: The difference of course is if you’re just playing with friends, you don’t have to give it all, because sometimes danger is always there, or accidents are always there. You don’t want to get injured just playing with your friends.  In tournaments, of course, even though I’ll die, I’ll do it, I’ll do it for that thing.

JACK: What did it feel like as a child to win the Philippines Nationals, Open Division, in Men’s Singles?  
MARKY: For me that time, because I’m young, I still don’t understand [what it means], I’m just happy.  Every time I play, I’m happy.  Also [if] I lose, I’m happy and enjoying the game.

JACK: After that, did you continue to be the best Men’s Singles player in the Philippines?  Did any one ever catch you?
MARKY: No, never.

JACK: In the present move to the United States, you’ve lived here about one-and-a-half years, correct?

JACK: What did you hope to accomplish by moving with your family to the United States?
MARKY: Ever since we came here, our hope is [for me] to play badminton in the [Summer] Olympics, to represent the U.S.A., to pursue my dream.

JACK: For how long have you been released by the Philippines National Team to play under the U.S. flag?
MARKY: Just recently, maybe three months ago.  After that, I played in the Yonex K&D Graphics International Challenge at Orange County Badminton Club and did great.  I played in the Men’s Singles finals against Howard Shu but lost in three sets [games].  That was the only time I played Howard Shu.

JACK: Do you think you can beat him now?
MARKY: I’ll try my best. 

JACK: What is it about Kwong Ben Chan’s game that gives you trouble?
MARKY: Actually, my skills are there already, and the physical strength and endurance is there already.  The only problem is mental.  It’s the experience, also.  It’s really, really hard to play against him because he’s very patient.  

JACK: What does it mean to you, to be “patient” in your tournament games?
MARKY: For me if you don’t have patience, you cannot set up yourself to read his game and open his game.  But if you’re patient, you can see his game, you can control him, see his weaknesses and take advantage.  His game is to let me kill [myself] to my mistakes.

JACK: What was juniors badminton competition and training like for you in the Philippines?
MARKY: Asia is one of the toughest areas for badminton.  There a lot of very talented players from China, Malaysia, Indonesia who we would play against in international tournaments.  At Allied Badminton, where I trained, there were about 50 Juniors.  We trained five days a week, eight hours a day in two sessions of 3 to 4 hours each.  

JACK: What surprised you, if anything, about your training when you moved to the U.S.A. one-and-a-half years ago?
MARKY: My training went down.  Sparring was missing.  That’s my problem now.  When I have sparring, I don’t have to double-time my training.  Now, since I don’t have sparring, I’m doing a lot of multi-shuttles with my father feeding me shuttles and many kind of different drills than compared to before. Also, I compete in many tournaments now and this has become a way of having more sparring opportunities. One of my former sparring partners here, Phillip Jap, is now a senior in high school and he is busy in school and not as available for training with me.  Also, he is coached in a different club.

JACK:  What suggestions would you make for improving the American badminton training programs to make the U.S.A. stronger in international competition?
MARKY: I would suggest players train every day, and as much as possible, train two times a day.  It really helps a lot.  Also, train for a long time.  It’s not a matter of, “train today and tomorrow you’re good.”  Badminton is a long-term process.

JACK: What is your advice to young badminton players?
MARKY: Badminton is really a fun sport.  That’s why I’m here because I enjoy it.  Also, it helps to make you strong when you grow up.  You will learn a lot.

JACK: What about your interest in guitar?
MARKY: Every time I play guitar it makes me creative, joyful and relaxed.

JACK: What interest do you have in other sports?
MARKY: I love playing basketball, billiards, bowling and darts.

JACK: Manny Pacquiao is also a basketball player and fan.  Have you met him before?
MARKY: Yes, I met him at the Manila Hilton Hotel during the Philippines Sports Writers Awards.  I was 13 and nervous.  His aura is so different than other people.  

JACK: Should Manny continue to fight?
MARKY: I want him to continue to fight, but now he’s busy with work and I think he should relax and enjoy life.

JACK: Can you describe the experience of playing Mixed Doubles with Olympian Jamie Subandhi?
MARKY: It’s really, really a pleasure playing with her.  I don’t feel nervous and my confidence is there when playing with her.  I am so comfortable playing with Jamie.  I don’t have to work a lot.  She has great anticipation, is good at the net and setting up [shots] and is very good at defense.  I learn a lot when playing with her.

JACK: What was it like playing Mixed Doubles with Olympian Paula Obanana?
MARKY: Paula is very skilled and strong at attacking when our opponents have a defensive style.  Every time we attack we get the point.  Like Jamie, Paula is an outstanding player.  The two players have different specialties in their play.

JACK: Are there any word “triggers” that you use in play to help prepare you mentally in badminton?
MARKY: Yes, for each point in a match, I tell myself, “Good focus,” and to help me visualize my future, I tell myself, “Goal.”

JACK: Are you currently eligible to play for the U.S.A. in the U.S. Trials, Thomas Cup, World Championships or Summer Olympics?
MARKY: No, those tournaments require U.S. citizenship and that’s what I’m working toward.