MANILA – Alexandra “Alex” Eala achieved another milestone for Philippine tennis when she became the first Filipino to win a grand slam singles championship at the US Open Juniors in New York City on Saturday.
No. 10 seed Eala, the only Filipino with two junior doubles grand slam titles, stunned Czech No. 2 seed Lucie Havlickova, 6-2, 6-4, at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.
“Buong puso ko itong ipinaglaban hindi lang para sa sarili ko kundi para makatulong din ako sa kinabukasan ng Philippine tennis. So hindi lang ‘to panalo ko, panalo natin lahat. (I fought for this wholeheartedly not only for myself but also to help with the future of Philippine tennis. So, this is not just my victory, but the victory of all of us),” Eala said tearfully during the trophy presentation.
She also congratulated Havlickova then thanked her family, everyone who supported and prayed for her, the tournament organizers, sponsors Globe Telecom, Nike, and Babolat, and her team at the Rafa Nadal Academy.
The 17-year-olds were the first to battle on Court 11, with Eala saving a break point then converting her third game point to level at 2-2.
Eala, a Rafa Nadal Academy scholar, was the first to break serve to be at 3-2, following a Havlickova double fault.
She extended her lead in her maiden junior slam singles final to 4-2 with a love service hold, then got the chance to serve for the set at 5-2 after she fired away a forehand crosscourt winner.
She claimed the first set, 6-2, following a backhand service return error from Havlickova, the 2022 Roland Garros junior singles and doubles champion.
Due to compete in the girls’ doubles final later in the afternoon, Havlickova broke back in the second set to be at 1-1 courtesy of an Eala double fault.
As their rallies extended with more varied shots, Eala and Havlickova managed to hold serve until their 4-4 deadlock.
Eala utilized her reliable forehand, which was on fire throughout the match, to earn two break points in the ninth game with a down-the-line winner.
She successfully converted the break to serve for the championship at 5-4 after Havlickova netted a forehand.
A netted backhand service return gave Eala two championship points, and another Havlickova netted backhand error awarded the Filipino the title victory, 6-4.
Eala screamed in elation, dropped her racket, and shook the hand of her Czech opponent, after which she acknowledged the enthusiastic crowd dominated by fellow Filipinos.
She ran to the stands to celebrate with coach Adrien Vaseux of the Rafa Nadal Academy, parents Michael and Rizza, and brother Miko, who also plays on the International Tennis Federation (ITF) Tour and for Penn State in the United States NCAA Division 1.
En route to the final, Eala moved past Canadian Annabelle Xu in the first round, 6-3, 6-0; Slovakian Nina Vargova in the second round, 6-2, 6-3; and Australian No. 8 seed Taylah Preston in the third round, 6-2, 7-6(1).
She continued to post straight-sets wins over Russian No. 14 seed Mirra Andreeva in the quarterfinals, 6-4, 6-0, and Canadian No. 9 seed Victoria Mboko in the semifinals, 6-1, 7-6(5).
The Filipino teen also participated in the Junior Girls’ Doubles draw with Andreeva, and the No. 4 seeds defeated American wildcards Shannon Lam and Iva Jovic in the opening round, 6-2, 6-2.
Their run, however, was cut short in the second round after they handed a walkover to Germans Carolina Kuhl and Ella Seidel.
Eala, a former ITF Juniors World No. 2, won the girls’ doubles titles at the 2020 Australian Open and 2021 Roland Garros.
The only other Filipino with a slam championship is Francis Casey Alcantara, who won the 2009 Australian Open boys’ doubles title.
In the junior singles category, the prior best finish of Filipinos was the semifinals, which was first achieved by Felix Barrientos at the 1985 Wimbledon and matched by Eala at the 2020 Roland Garros and 2022 US Open.
On the professional level, Eala also made history last month when she became the highest ranked Filipino on the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) Tour at World No. 280, surpassing the No. 284 rank of Maricris Fernandez-Gentz achieved in 1999.
Currently the World No. 297, Eala has been playing in professional tournaments since January with two ITF titles under her name: the 2021 W15 Manacor in Spain and 2022 W25 Chiang Rai in Thailand.