MANILA – Playing for the Philippines is of great importance for Alex Eala, Ruben Gonzales, and Francis Casey Alcantara – the country's lean tennis team that will see action in the 19th Asian Games (Asiad) in Hangzhou, China.
The Southeast Asian (SEA) Games medalists, who all reached career-high rankings this year, committed to the Asiad amid their hectic schedules on the professional tour.
“It is always an honor to represent the Philippines,” Eala told ABS-CBN News.
With the tough competition in Hangzhou, the 18-year-old Asiad debutante is expected to take things in stride in singles and mixed doubles with Gonzales as she shared that she does not let the crowd get in the way during critical moments in matches.
“It’s always good to have the crowd with you but if they’re not, it doesn’t matter either way,” she said during a post-match interview at the 2023 Thailand Open.
Currently at a career-best ranking of WTA World No. 191, Eala is coming off opening-round exits as a qualifier at the Japan Women’s Open in Osaka and Guangzhou Open in China.
The winner of three SEAG bronze medals for women’s singles, mixed doubles, and women’s team conquered the W25 Yecla in Spain in June and W25 Roehampton in Great Britain in August.
The four-time ITF women’s singles winner has three junior grand slam titles from the 2020 Australian Open and 2021 Roland Garros girls’ doubles and 2022 US Open girls’ singles.
Gonzales and Alcantara, meanwhile, expressed their willingness to join the Asiad in May after scoring their second SEAG men’s doubles gold medal in Cambodia.
“I want to play… I would love to play,” remarked Gonzales, who peaked at 116th in March on the ATP Doubles Rankings.
“Representing the Philippines is obviously the biggest honor that I can really say that I’ve had,” added the eight-time ATP Challenger doubles champion who had runner-up finishes in February in Cleveland in the United States and Manama in Bahrain.
The 167th-ranked doubles specialist competed this month at the Rennes Challenger in France where he and Maximilian Neuchrist of Austria lost in the quarterfinals.
Gonzales, 38, will also play in the men’s doubles event to reunite with Alcantara after their come-from-behind gold triumph in Phnom Penh.
“I think that a huge motivator for me is even at the age that I’m at, I feel like I’m getting better. That’s a huge thing,” said the 18-time ITF men’s doubles titlist.
“And I’m working hard every single day and on every kind of aspect of my career – physically, mentally, emotionally – to improve.”
Alcantara, who easily replied “Why not?” when asked about his eagerness to participate in the Asiad, will also play in the singles draw.
“It’s always nice to represent the Philippines,” said the 31-year-old, who commented that the Challenger schedule in China this season was “perfect before the Asian Games.”
The current ATP Doubles World No. 239 and Chinese Fajing Sun lost in the Challenger finals in Segovia, Spain in July and Zhangjiagang, China this month.
Alcantara, who rose to a career-high of 224th in August, has 20 ITF men’s doubles crowns and five Challenger runner-up results.
He has won three championships this year at the M25 New Delhi in India with Pruchya Isaro of Thailand, M25 Jakarta in Indonesia with Hiroki Moriya of Japan, and M25 Nakhon Si Thammarat in Thailand with Moriya.
Although competing in the SEAG and Asiad does not award ranking points, the 2009 Australian Open boys’ doubles champion mentioned another significant reason for playing in regional meets.
“It gives me more confidence that I’m playing well, I’m doing well. And I just have to keep on building, keep on winning sa Futures and hopefully, Challengers para I can slowly get up there. And hopefully by the end of the year, I’ll be like Top 200,” said Alcantara.
The Asiad, which is held every four years, will run from September 23 to October 8, with the tennis events slated from September 24 to 30 at the Hangzhou Olympic Sports Centre.