MANILA, Philippines – Every Monday to Friday is a week of stepping in and out of the court, making time for fitness workouts, rushing to school, being class president and doing homework for Alex Eala. But after going through her weekday routine, Alex still manages to get up for her 7 am training in Valle Verde Country Club with her brother Miko.
For Alex, the daily grind is all worth it at the end of the day when you continue making it to the honor roll and you actually got a wild card to qualify for the 2018 Roland Garros Junior Championships.
From her stint in the Les Petits As-Le Mondial Lacoste, Alex’s championship-winning performance caught the attention of International Tennis Federation (ITF) board member and Fédération Française de Tennis (FF Tennis) President Bernard Giudicelli, who rewarded her with a wild card to compete against the world’s top 100 girls in the 18-under division. (READ: PH junior tennis star Alex Eala to compete in 2018 Roland-Garros)
“I was so surprised, I really wasn’t expecting kasi like a lot of people they worked so hard and so long to get the opportunity to play there. And knowing that it is going to be my first ITF, [it’s] cool,” said Alex.
At two years old, Alex started watching Miko practice from the sidelines until her grandfather Roberto Maniego (Lolo Bobby) fed her a ball himself two years later.
“Then at the age of 4, ‘You want to try?’,” asked Maniego. “‘Yes lolo’. The first ball I fed her, it went over the net. ‘You come back.'”
From then on, Maniego recalled that Alex would come back in her rubber shoes that had LED lights and a racket to practice with Miko as well.
Alex remembers that her first tennis tournament wasn’t spectacular. She lost to boy in the Valle Verde Club tournament and in her next competition, she lost to a girl in her age group. Despite the initial setbacks, Alex already had the determined attitude to keep training harder as her family was also there to support her all the way.
“I didn’t feel good naturally. Parang I understood naman na I was still young so I knew that it would get better,” said Alex. “They [her family] were always there naman, and they would always tell me ‘It’s okay, next time, you train harder.’ They’re always there to support.”
As she began to reach the semis in local tournaments, Alex made her international debut at the Little Mo competition in the United States at 8 years old, where she eventually took home the trophy.
“It was two sides. One I was scared because I didn’t go out that often when I was 8. Two, I was still young so I didn’t understand that this was a hard tournament so I just played,” said Alex when asked about her experience in Little Mo.
Lineage of talent
Alex’s and Miko’s passion and hard work for tennis bore fruit to many opportunities as they are currently competing in high-level junior competitions all over the world at 12 and 15 years old, respectively.
According to Alex, she draws inspiration from her mother, Rizza Maniego-Eala, who was a Women’s 100m backstroke bronze medalist in the 13th Southeast Asian Games. Clearly, Alex and Miko are gifted with a talent for sports as Rizza’s sister is also a former national swimmer while her brother is a swimmer-turned-tennis-player for the University of the Philippines (UP) tennis varsity.
“I’m not really competitive with my mom but she’s definitely an inspiration, role model. Lolo [Bobby] would always tell us how determined she was and you of course as her daughter, you want to be like her,” said Alex.
After Alex and Miko’s parents decide their training schedule, they would always make it a point to inform Lolo Bobby as he would always be present to watch them play tennis. Having raised his 3 children to become star athletes, Lolo Bobby also makes sure to give his 100% support to his grandchildren’s tennis careers.
“Every day actually it is a day to day thing. The parents tell me there’s training tomorrow, 7:00 or 3:00, I come here. It is the parents who decide the schedule. Once they are here inside the tennis court, I am the one here deciding already what to do. But outside tennis, I don’t talk to them about tennis. I talk to them about life,” said Lolo Bobby.
With her qualification to Roland Garros, Alex is at the forefront of Philippine tennis. She is currently busy finishing the school year in Colegio de San Agustin-Makati, while waiting for her chance to compete in her first ITF tournament in April 2018.
The opportunity is not only a big break to see a Filipina compete in the Roland Garros, but it also brings Alex a step closer to her dream of playing professionally in the future. With her family rallying behind her, Alex aims to make it to the Grand Slams.
“Of course I’m so proud. Maybe they don’t notice it I don’t praise them always. But to other people I say it: ‘My grandchildren, they’re good.’,” said Lolo Bobby.
“They are not going to be just [good tennis players], but [they] have to be a champion daughter or son, [They] have to be [champion students], [They] have to be champion friends.” – Rappler.com