POSTSCRIPT / September 13, 2022 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Eala at US Open: Panalo nating lahat!

We were pleasantly amazed when Alexandra Eala, the Pinay tennis teen sensation delivered remarks in heartfelt Filipino after winning on Saturday her maiden singles Grand Slam title in the US Open Juniors tournament in New York.

Alexandra Eala became the first Filipino to win a Grand Slam title in the US Open Juniors tournament in New York. Photo: Alex Eala/ Facebook

“Panalo nating lahat!” the 17-year-old star proclaimed as she thanked all those who have been supportive, especially her family – and dedicated her final clean sweep to her countrymen.

Defeating Czech Republic’s Lucie Havlickova in two sets, 6-2, 6-4, Eala became the first Filipino to win a Grand Slam title, which she did without dropping a single set. She now holds three Grand Slams: two in Girls’ Doubles and her latest in singles at the US Open.

After clinching victory at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York City, Eala dropped her racket, went to shake the hand of Havlickova and of the chair umpire, then ran to her family led by her father Mike and mother Rizza, and they hugged in excitement.

Born in Quezon City, Alexandra Maniego Eala stands 5 feet-9 inches and is left-handed. (Her brother Miko, 20, plays college tennis in the US and is ranked 1,506 by the Association of Tennis Professionals, compared to her 297 by the World Tennis Association.)

Holding back tears, Eala said later in her acceptance remarks: “Unang una, gusto ko munang magpasalamat sa pamilya ko kasi kung hindi para sa kanila hindi ko ito kakayanin.

“Maraming salamat din sa lahat ng nagdasal at nagsupporta sa akin, sa aking mga sponsors, Globe, Nike, Babolat, maraming maraming salamat po, and of course, to my team at the Rafa Nadal Academy.

“Buong puso ko itong pinaglaban, hindi para lang sa sarili ko kundi para makatulong din ako para sa kinabukasan ng Pilipinas. So hindi lang ito panalo ko, panalo nating lahat! Thank you.”

Note her mentioning the Rafa Nadal Academy, a training school on Mallorca island named after Spain’s Rafael Nadal Parera, the 22-time Grand Slam champion. Eala has trained there as a scholar.

A story of Agence France-Presse quoted Eala as saying, “My idol is obviously Rafa. He’s a very good role model, something a lot of people should idolize and try to be. The biggest thing I notice in Rafa is how he fights till the end, and how his thoughts are so clear.

“He’s so calm, but at the same time so fired up. I think I really tried to channel that energy during this whole week.”

Fellow sportsmen heaped praise on her, such as Filipino-Australian WTA player Lizette Cabrera, pole vaulter EJ Obiena, and newly appointed Philippine Sports Commission chair Noli Eala, her uncle.

“What a (star),” Cabrera wrote on her Instagram story. She had previously partnered with Eala in a doubles tournament earlier this year. Obiena quipped, “Grand Slam Champion @alex.eala. Beast mode!!!”

There are four age divisions in the US Open: 12, 14, 16 & 18 and under. One may play in his/her division until the last day of the month before “aging out”. For example, Alex who turns 18 on May 23, 2023, may play in the 18-and-under division until the last day of April next year.

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Other Filipinos going into competition sports, as well as sports officials like PSC chair Noli Eala, may want to ponder on Alex’s post-game remarks and statements.

“This is a huge step for me,” she told the press. “I’m super happy to represent my country and do something with a big platform, being able to inspire other younger people.”

She said she wanted to continue inspiring the Philippine tennis community, in the same spirit as the trailblazing women in the seniors division such as Iga Swiatek, the first Polish woman to rule the US Open, and runner-up Ons Jabeur from Tunisia.

“Of course, all tennis players have their own stories and they’ve gone through hardships and to see people like Iga and Ons making their own path and inspiring so many young people is definitely something that I want to do as well,” she said.

The key to her achievements at a young age, she said, is being surrounded by good people, with her family – father Mike, mother Rizza (a former national swimming team member), and brother Miko, also a tennis player – providing an inspiring presence.

She added: “I would say the biggest obstacle is probably being away from my family and many other things that a lot of tennis players also go through. But the key is to be surrounded by good people and people that I look up to, (to) guide me the right way.

“All of them are pretty involved from everything down to, like, what I wear, my schedule, yeah… I ask them for their opinion on almost everything. I would say they’re pretty involved, the big things and small things. I rely on them a lot.”

Eala said she was proud of how she handled the pressure in the tournament, where she did not drop a single set in six matches:

“I’m very happy with the way I handled each and every point. I had a lot of moments in this tournament where I was down, I could have lost, could have lost a set, and could have gotten mad easily, but I didn’t.”

In Manila, many of us wonder how long this excitement over Alex Eala’s US Open signal victory would last – and if it would spark and sustain government-private initiatives in promoting sports and building world-class players.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of September 13, 2022)

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