US Open Junior champ Alex Eala gives PH another heroine
Alex Eala has been dreaming big—like Grand Slam big.
She lived that on Saturday (Sunday in Manila) and wants just so little for it.
“Maybe just a good dinner,” the prodigious 17-year-old told the press conference moderator after winning the US Open Junior championship for girls that gave the Philippines its first Grand Slam tennis champion. “I’m just trying to take it all in right now, take a breath and just share it with my family, yeah.”
Eala played her heart out in scoring a 6-2, 6-4 win over world No. 3 Lucie Havlickova of the Czech Republic to write Philippine tennis history and, in her Filipino words, give the sport something to look forward to.
“I said that it’s not just my win,” Eala said when the emcee at the awarding ceremony asked her what she told the crowd in her native tongue. “It’s all of our wins. I said that, yeah. I did this not just for myself, I did it so I could help Philippine tennis.”
Philippine tennis has been in shambles before her coming, as no one after Felix Barrientos in 1985 came close to doing what Eala just pulled out.
Barrientos made the semifinals of Wimbledon that year and lost to Eduardo Velez of Mexico. With politics taking over, development in the sport has stagnated, with the country dropping into unimaginable levels in Davis Cup play.
Eala and her family have sacrificed a lot, being away from each other since three years ago when the Rafael Nadal Academy offered her a scholarship after winning a tournament in France.
“The Academy reached out to my parents (Mike and the former Rizza Maniego). After a while, long discussions, we decided that I would be based there.”
PH’s string of successes
This victory is another in a string of international triumphs for the Philippines by women, following Yuka Saso’s US Women’s Open golf win in San Francisco’s Olympic Club in June 2021, Hidilyn Diaz’ triumph in the Tokyo Games in Japan that snapped an almost-century wait for the first Olympic gold and the Fifa (International Federation of Association Football) Women’s World Cup qualification of the Filipinas earlier this year.
“It’s very overwhelming right now,” Eala said when asked how it felt being the first one from the Philippines with a Grand Slam. “I think this is a huge step for me, personally. I’m super happy to represent my country and do something with a big platform, being able to inspire other younger people.”
But with Saso taking up Japanese citizenship for convenience and Diaz obviously nearing retirement, the country has a lot of things to look forward to in Eala.
And the charming left-hander is ready to explore all options, with everyone back home waiting to see what’s next.
“I wouldn’t say that yet,” she said when she would end her junior career after the win. “I’m definitely not really sure. As you can tell, a tennis schedule should be very flexible.
“For the next couple of months, probably, I will be focusing on [the] professional [level],” she said. “This is my first junior [title] of the year, so I am happy with how I performed with that. Definitely going to focus on my professional career, yeah.”
Successful athletes have sacrifice stories behind their triumphs. And Eala hasn’t been spared from that.
“I think all tennis players have their own story,” she said. “They’ve gone through their own hardships.”
For Alex, it was being away from family for so long and not being able to do what typical teeners do.
It was all worth it and this country that has been so enamored with basketball has another darling to follow.
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