Excitement fills the air in the Philippine tennis world as our very own tennis star, 15-year-old Alexandra “Alex” Eala, recently clinched the No. 2 spot in the world tennis tour junior rankings after her great run in the French Open.
It was a historic achievement for the country. Eala is the first Filipina to reach the semifinals in singles of a junior Grand Slam in 35 years, following Felix Barrientos, who was a finalist in the 1985 Wimbledon juniors tournament.
Alex garnered a total of 2148.75 points as of October 12, just behind Elsa Jacquemot of France with 2261.25 points. Jacquemot defeated Eala in the French Open semifinal en route to winning the junior Grand Slam.
While still considered a fresh face in the sport, the tennis prodigy has been training since age five under the strict supervision of her late lolo, Roberto “Bobby Maniego,” a big tennis enthusiast. In an interview with Sports U November last year, Alex said it was from her training with her grandfather that she gained the mental strength needed in the sport.
“Every day, I was with him on the court. Madami akong natutunan. Until age 13 sa kanya ako, so 9 years din,” she told Sports U. Lolo Bobby, who passed away last November, is the dad of Alex’s mom, Rizza Maniego-Eala, who was a women’s 100m backstroke bronze medalist in the 1985 Southeast Asian Games.
Alex is also the niece of former sports commentator and PBA commissioner Noli Eala, who served as the pro basketball league’s commissioner from 2003-2005. Her mom Rizza’s sister is a former national swimmer while her brother is a swimmer-turned-tennis-player for the University of the Philippines (UP) tennis varsity.
She started playing the sport because her older brother, Miko, plays tennis. “She was just two years old then and she was already on court, at first just watching her kuya,” Alex’s dad, Mike Eala, told Asian Journal. “Later on, she told us she also wanted to compete.”
At eight, Alex made her international debut at the Little Mo competition in Dallas, where she emerged winner. Little Mo is named after Maureen Connolly, who in 1953 became the first woman to win a tennis Grand Slam.
Alex has since been serving aces in her young career. And it was winning the wildcard to the 2018 Roland Garros juniors tournament qualifiers that got the attention of scouts from the Rafael Nadal Academy (RNA), which is run by the 19-time Grand Slam titlist himself.
Alex ended up getting a full a scholarship there together with her brother Miko and has been studying at the American International School of Mallorca, which is located inside the academy, since September 2018.
The Academy is the former training ground of Nadal himself. It combines tennis and education so that the students and aspiring athletes can continue to build their tennis careers without sacrificing their academic studies.
Alex goes through a rigorous four-hour training regimen at RNA every morning, and then goes to school around noon until late in the afternoon.
Alex is all praises for Nadal, her idol and fellow leftie. “I love the way he plays. He is very strong mentally,” she told the Asian Journal.
In an interview with itftennis.com, Alex expresses her pride representing the Philippines and doing well. “I feel that reflects well on the nation and shows how hard we work. The Filipinos are very underrated, so to be able to add to their status is good,” she said.
Photos from Alex's Instagram account