MANILA, Philippines – In beating ninth seed Victoria Mboko of Canada in the US Open girls singles semifinals, Filipina tennis teen star Alex Eala already made history by becoming the first-ever Filipino to make the singles finals of a grand slam junior event.
There have been three Filipinos in the past who have made the finals of the doubles competition in junior grand slam tournaments, and they all went on to win the doubles titles. Eala is one of them.
She has earned two junior grand slam doubles titles, the 2020 Australian Open when, as a 14-year-old, she teamed up with Indonesia’s Priska Nugroho, and the 2021 French Open, when she partnered with Oksana Selekhmeteva of Russia.
But the farthest that a Filipino has gone in singles is the semifinals. This happened twice – the first time in 1984 when Filipino tennis legend Felix Barrientos made the Wimbledon boys singles final four, and again in 2021 when Eala reached the semis of the US Open girls singles.
Eala has been on a tear all week long in this year’s US Open. Among the four players who made the semifinals of the girls singles, it was only Eala who had not dropped a set the entire tournament.
Back in juniors competition after a year spent playing in the pro circuit, Eala began the US Open with a 6-3, 6-0 demolition of Annabelle Xu of Canada. She followed it up with a breezy 6-2, 6-3 triumph over Nina Vargova of Slovakia.
In the third round, Eala faced some tense moments against eighth seed Taylah Preston of Australian before eventually prevailing, 6-3, 7-6(1).
The quarterfinals was projected to be a close one with Eala matched up against her doubles partner, 15-year-old Russian prodigy and 14th seed Mirra Andreeva.
Andreeva had taken out top seed Sofia Costoulas of Belgium in the 3rd round. The Russian has had quite a year by becoming the only 15-year-old to win three ITF pro tour titles. None of these credentials mattered to Eala, who demolished Andreeva, 6-4, 6-0.
The path to becoming a grand slam champion, though, will be fraught with some dangerous challenge as standing opposite the net in the finals will be second seed Lucie Havlickova of the Czech Republic.
Eala is 297th in the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) world ranking. She is the fourth youngest in the top 300 and reached a career-high ranking of 280th last August. Eala is the second highest ranked pro tour player in this year’s US Open girls singles competition.
The highest ranked WTA tour player in the US Open juniors is Russia’s Diana Shnaider who is is currently ranked 265th in the world. The 18-year-old Shnaider was eliminated in the semifinals in straight sets by her doubles partner, Havlickova.
The 17-year-old Havlickova, who is two months older than Eala, has also been in top form, dropping a set just once in her run to the US Open juniors finals. She opened her campaign with a 6-3, 6-4 win over Alanis Hamilton of the United States.
Havlickova was pushed to the limit in the second round but proved she could prevail in a close quarter battle by defeating Sarah Ilev of France, 6-3, 1-6, 6-3. She then proceeded with a 6-2, 7-6(9) conquest of Mia Kupres of Canada in the third round.
In the quarterfinals, Havlickova eliminated the last American left in the field, Clervie Ngounoue, 6-4, 6-2.
Like Eala who has focused exclusively on the pro tour this past year, Havlickova has also been active in the pro circuit where she is now ranked 442nd in the world. Her best performance, however, has only been a quarterfinal finish in the W25 Roehampton held in Great Britain last August.
Eala has done much better in the pro circuit. She clinched her 2nd career pro title last April when she won the W25 Chiang Rai in Thailand. In June, Eala finished runner-up in the Open ITF Arcadis Brezo Osuna, a W60 event held in Madrid, Spain.
In the junior circuit, though, Havlickova has been nothing less than phenomenal.
She was at her best in this year’s French Open juniors where she emerged champion in both the girls singles and the girls doubles.
A lot will be at stake for the two young ladies in the finals on Saturday, September 10 (Sunday, September 11, Manila time).
Havlickova will be aiming for another double championship as she and Shnaider have also made the girls doubles finals.
Eala, on the other hand, will be gunning for a piece of history, the opportunity of a lifetime to become the first Filipino to hoist a junior grand slam champion’s trophy. – Rappler.com