Asian Games

Alex Eala, PH tennisters look to end Asian Games medal drought

Ariel Ian Clarito

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Alex Eala, PH tennisters look to end Asian Games medal drought

TARGET. Alex Eala in action in the 2023 Guangzhou Open in China.

Alex Eala Facebook page

Alex Eala debuts in the Asian Games with hopes of winning the Philippines its first tennis medal in the continental showpiece in nearly two decades

MANILA, Philippines – Alex Eala was a little over a year old when the Philippines last brought home medals in tennis from the Asian Games. This was in 2006 in Doha, Qatar when Cecil Mamiit won the  bronze in men’s singles and another bronze in men’s doubles with Eric Taino.

Meanwhile, the last time the Philippines earned medals in women’s tennis was in 1966 in Bangkok, Thailand when Patricia Yngayo and Desideria Ampon bagged a doubles silver. Yngayo, teaming up with Federico Deyro, also pocketed a silver that year in mixed doubles. 

This year, the Philippines looks to end those two droughts, with Eala – a US Open girls’ singles champion – at the forefront of that bid in Hangzhou, China.

Eala is now ranked a career-high No. 191 in the world. With the absence of some prominent names like 2022 Wimbledon champion and world No. 5 Elena Rybakina and three-time Grand Slam quarterfinalist Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan, Japan’s top two players Nao Hibino and Mai Hontama, and South Korea’s Su Jeong Jang, the Filipina teen tennis ace finds herself tagged as the tournament fourth seed among 36 players in the women’s singles event.

With her high seeding, Eala’s quest for a podium finish, though not paved and obstacle-free, appears realistic. She earned a bye in the opening round and will await in the second round the winner between Sarah Khan of Pakistan and Hend Almudahka of Qatar, both of whom are unranked in the WTA and ITF standings.

Eala will need two more wins after the second round. If the matches go according to the rankings, she would possibly face 13th seed Rutuja Bhosale. India’s former No. 1 doubles player, the 27-year-old Bhosale is 335th in the singles world rankings. 

The quarterfinals is where things will get interesting for Eala. 

She could face either eight seed Thai prodigy Lanlanee Tararudee or 11th seed Japanese veteran Kyoka Okamura in the round of eight.

Just 19, Tararudee has already won four titles in the ITF pro tour and bagged silver in women’s singles in this year’s Southeast Asian Games. Next to Eala, Tararudee is the highest-ranked Southeast Asian in the world at No. 249.

Okamura, 27, has earned two singles titles and 11 doubles titles in the ITF pro circuit. She sits at No. 323 in the world rankings.

A victory in the quarterfinals will assure Eala of at least a bronze. She is on a potential semifinals collision course with top seed Qinwen Zheng, China’s top player who is 22nd in the world. The 20-year-old Zheng made the quarterfinals of the recent US Open and was named the 2022 WTA Newcomer of the Year.

The other fancied bets in the field Eala may have to contend with are world No. 31 Zhu Lin of China, who made the fourth round of the Australian Open and the third round of Wimbledon this year; India third seed Ankita Raina, who won the women’s singles bronze in the 2018 Asian Games; and fifth seed Na Lae-Han of South Korea, who is No. 216 in the world.

Eala will also team up with Francis Casey Alcantara in mixed doubles, where they are the 14th seeds. They will open their event against the unfancied duo of Sunira Thapa and Pranav Kanal of Nepal. 

It is not far fetched to see the Eala ace her way to a medal in this year’s Asian Games. The losing stream in tennis has gone on too long. She just might be the one to break the dry spell. –

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