Alexandra “Alex” Eala, the 14-year-old teen tennis star from the Philippines, made an impressive US Open Juniors Championship debut on Monday, dismissing her Australian opponent in straight sets with a commanding 6-1, 6-0 score.
Eala made it to the main draw of Juniors Girls Singles as one of the eight qualifiers who had to win two times at the Cary Leeds Tennis Center in the Bronx, before moving to the main site at the Billie Jean King Tennis Center in Flushing, Queens to be among 64 teens running after the title.
“This win is definitely a stepping stone to where I want to be in the future, which is to play pro, obviously, so I’m going to be working hard and practice more to achieve that goal,” Eala told the Asian Journal after the match. “I knew it was going to be hard today, all the matches are going to be hard, so hopefully I’d perform well in the next few matches.”
She won over the top seed in the qualifying matches and made it through both without dropping a set.
“It’s the same every match. I get out, give my best and try to get the best results I can,” she shared.
Getting into the US Open Juniors main draw for juniors is a dream-come true for Eala.
“It is a very prestigious tournament, high level and under-18 and I worked very hard to accomplish this so I am definitely going to make the most out of this,” she added.
Notching her first win at the Open was quite an experience for her and she credits her training regimen where she gets to give it all. She trains every day except Sunday, which is her rest day.
“It gets mentally and physically tiring so I think that helps me grow as a person and as an athlete,” she said.
Her coach Daniel Gomez da Costa and her dad Mike Eala were both at the sidelines watching the match.
“She was very calm comparing with the situation that she has to face. At only 14 years old, she shows very good behavior and attitude,” Gomez said. “She played with good intensity and she served really well.”
The following day, she and her doubles partner and fellow Rafa Nadal Academy (RNA) scholar Elvina Kalieva, came from behind and aced a straight sets win, 7-5, 6-1.
Rafa Nadal Academy
Alex won a tournament in France in 2018 and scouts from the RNA in Nadal’s hometown of Manacor, on the island of Mallorca, Spain approached them and discussed about Eala training with them. She ended up getting a full scholarship there.
The Academy is a high performance tennis center, the former training ground of Nadal himself. Nadal and his team opened it in 2016 and created a unique training system based on the experience he has acquired through the years competing in the ATP circuit. The international tennis academy combines tennis and education so that the students and aspiring athletes can continue to build their tennis careers without sacrificing their academic studies.
“At the international school, we are going to help them make that transition to the best universities possible and prepare them for life,” Nadal told Reuters in a 2017 interview.
“It is a great opportunity to train there because they provide really good training there. I have improved a lot since I went there. You get a lot of exposure and it’s very professional,” she said.
Because of rain delays, their match which was supposed to be played in the afternoon, began around 6:30 pm and Rafael Nadal was set to play his Round 4 match against Marin Cilic at Arthur Ashe Stadium around 7:00 pm.
After she won and finished interviews, photos and some autograph signing, her coach called her and showed two tickets to Nadal’s box. They rushed to Ashe just in time for the third set, and witnessed Nadal win in four. The proud dad posted a photo on social media of Alex on the box with her coach and Nadal’s parents and the coaches led by Carlos Moya.
“I’m so happy that she came to the Nadal Academy and we look forward to achieving bigger things,” Coach Gomez said. “She’s too young and we need to keep working hard, but of course, she has the chance, the possibilities, specially because she’s very humble, a hard worker and very good discipline.”
After her stint here in New York, she will go back to Mallorca because she just received another year of scholarship in the academy.
At RNA, she goes through a rigorous training regimen. A typical day would have her waking up at 7:00 am, have breakfast and train at around 8:00 am, followed by fitness. Around noon, she goes to school at the American International School inside RNA until late in the afternoon. That’s a total of about four hours of training every single day.
Alex is all praises for Nadal, her idol and fellow leftie.
“I love the way he plays. He is very strong mentally,” she said about the 18-time major singles winner.
For the women’s side, she idolizes Simona Halep for her aggressiveness and the way she plays.
Tennis and growing up
“Alex started playing tennis because her older brother Miko, plays tennis,” Mike said. “She was just two years old then and she was already on court, at first just watching her kuya. Later on, she told us she also wanted to compete.”
He added that their grandfather, Bobby Maniego, father of his wife Rizza, was actually instrumental in getting his kids into tennis. They were small kids when they started.
At the age of 8, Alex made her international debut at the Little Mo competition in Dallas, where she eventually took home the trophy. Little Mo is named after Maureen Connolly, who in 1953 became the first woman to win a tennis Grand Slam.
Both Eala siblings now train at the Nadal Academy.
As parents, Mike and his wife supported their children’s dreams.
Which is why he said watching Alex notch her first US Open was such a pleasure for him to witness.
“The fulfillment of being able to get here in itself, is already something big for us, and to be able to win the qualifying matches, get here and win her first match, is a better and more satisfying result,” he said. “This is the best way to experience the US Open!”
Atty. Antonio Cablitas, president of the Philippine Tennis Association, is happy to see a young Filipina teen making it on the global stage, particularly in one of the grand slam tournaments.
“We’re focused on looking at young talents not just in the Philippines but also around the world, the future of Philippine tennis and Alex is a prime example of that,” he said as we chatted outside the Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Cablitas credits Alex’s talent and determination for her to be on this stage despite her very young age.
“But of course we need to credit the parents, Mike and Rizza. Their support has been immense and they play a big role here,” Cablitas added.
Dealing with losses
On Wednesday, Sept. 4, Eala’s dreams of getting deeper into both the Junior Girls Singles and Doubles competitions came to a screeching halt as she lost in straight sets to her Thai opponent, Mai Nirundorn in the morning and fell, 6-3, 6-3 with her doubles partner Kalieva to their French opponents.
“We were super happy with the win on Monday but we knew it’s going to be a long road,” Alex’s dad Mike said. “We will learn from this experience and use it to make her stronger.”
Her coach said that Alex had a good singles match, it was just that the Thai opponent was playing really well, too.
After losing the first set, 7-5, Eala won the next three games at 3-0. Nirundorn stepped it up and came from behind to win the next six games, the set and the match.
“I’m proud of what I achieved here at the US Open and I am gonna come back stronger next time,” Eala told us outside Court 5, after they lost their doubles match. “I’ll take what I’ve learned here and I will work harder in maintaining my intensity during matches.”