New star rising
Even before the enormity of winning her first Grand Slam event fully sank in, Alex Eala had her eyes on just two things: Rice and barbecue.“Oh I’m definitely going to eat tonight,” Eala, 14, told the Inquirer when asked how she would celebrate winning the Australian Open girls’ doubles on Friday.
Rice and barbecue happens to be the favorite food combination of the young tennis ace, who admitted being still “in shock” after she and Indonesian partner Priska Nugroho captured the title at Court No. 13 of Melbourne Park.
Eala, ranked No. 9 in the world among junior girls doubles players, and Nugroho completely dominated Ziva Falkner of Slovenia and Matilda Mutavdzic of Great Britain, 6-1, 6-2. On the way to the final, the pair toppled No. 1 seeds Kamilla Bartone of Latvia and Linda Fruhvirtova of Czech Republic (1-6, 7-5, 10-8) in the semifinals.
“I’m just really, really happy. It’s unreal,” said Eala who played with her entire family in the stands, including dad Mike, mom Rizza and brother Miko.
Both Alex and Miko are scholars at Rafael Nadal Academy in Mallorca, Spain. The world No. 1 Nadal even took time to talk to her at the Players’ Lounge right after she reached third round in singles.
She eventually dropped the match the following day. But her partnership with the 16-year-old Nugroho, which has produced several ITF titles last year, was unstoppable and eventually produced the country’s first Grand Slam juniors title since 2009, when Francis Casey Alcantara and Hsieh Cheng-peng of Chinese Taipei topped the boys doubles also in the Australian Open.
“No match was easy, we just really performed very well and kept our energy high and stayed positive,” Eala added. Her latest feat is expected to send even more attention especially after she was included in the five “players to watch in the junior draws” in the Australian Open website.
Written by David Cox, the article branded Eala as a “Nadal protege.” “At a tender age of 14, Eala is four years younger than many of her rivals,” Cox wrote.
“But her talent has already been recognized by the Rafael Nadal Academy where she trains full-time as a scholar.” Eala and Nuroho also bundled out French pair Aubane Droguet and Selena Janicijevic, 7-6 (2), 6-2, in the quarterfinals.
On the way there, the pair defeated French Julie Belgraver and Slovenian Pia Lovric (6-2, 4-6, 11-9) in the second round and Elina Avanesyan of Russia and Lyubov Kostenko of Ukraine in the first round.
Meanwhile, Sofia Kenin enjoys the bright lights and the big city, which is why she aspires to reside in Manhattan one day and perhaps explains why she is thriving on the Grand Slam stage right now. “Maybe because of ‘Gossip Girl.’ … I love New York. I just love it there,” the 21-year-old American said. “Central Park. All of Fifth Avenue. All those shops. I’m a fancy girl. I like those shops, living the life.”
Kenin sure is at the center of it all at the Australian Open, where she will face two-time major champion and former No. 1 Garbiñe Muguruza in the final on Saturday.
“I don’t want to be [on] defense against her. She can really put the ball away. She’s really aggressive,” Kenin said. “So I feel like it’s going to be who’s controlling the points more, who is dictating. Of course, defense is obviously going to help.”
This will be the 14th-seeded Kenin’s debut in a Slam title match; she never had been past the fourth round until now. But her gritty and varied style carried her past 15-year-old star-in-the-making Coco Gauff and the top-seeded Ash Barty in Week 2 at Melbourne Park.
“You don’t experience this so often. Of course, I’m going to enjoy it. This is so exciting. Literally, butterflies,” said Kenin, whose words tumble out of her mouth as speedily as her legs carry her around a court. “I’m just going to also focus on what I need to do, focus on my game. I got here. It’s time to shine.” —With a report from AP