Birthday girl Alex Eala stands on cusp of another historic feat

Ariel Ian Clarito

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Birthday girl Alex Eala stands on cusp of another historic feat

GRINDING. Filipino teen tennis standout Alex Eala continues to impress in the international stage.


History beckons on the same day she turns 19 as Alex Eala earns a shot at becoming the first female player from the Philippines to reach the singles main draw of a Grand Slam event

MANILA, Philippines – One match is all that separates Alex Eala from imprinting another mark in Philippine sports history. 

No Filipino female player has ever reached the singles main draw of a Grand Slam event in professional tennis. 

But after Eala rallied past Taylah Preston of Australia in the second round of the French Open qualifiers, 4-6, 6-4, 7-5, on Wednesday, May 22, the Filipina tennis sensation moved within a win of reaching the main draw of a Grand Slam.

The last time a player with Filipino roots reached the singles main draw of a Grand Slam in the modern era was in the 2004 Australian Open men’s event when Fil-Am Cecil Mamiit – then representing the Unites States – lost in straight sets in the first round to former world No. 1 Leyton Hewitt. 

Before Mamiit, other Filipinos who played in the main draw of a Grand Slam were Felicisimo Ampon, Raymundo Deyro, Johnny Jose, Cesar Carmona, Guillermo “Willie” Hernandez, and Eric Taino.

In men’s doubles, the recently retired Treat Huey achieved the best finish by a Filipino when he reached the 2016 Wimbledon semifinals.

Eala, who turns 19 years old on Thursday, May 23, has the golden opportunity on the same day to join the elite cast of Filipino tennis players who have stamped their names in the Grand Slams.

Standing in Eala’s way, though, is Julia Riera of Argentina, who is riding the wave of the best stretch in her professional career.

Estimated match time is 5 pm Thursday, Manila time. 

Only 16 of the 128 qualifiers will reach the women’s main draw after the knockout qualifying tournament.

History maker

What should boost Eala’s hopes are two things – first, she too is enjoying a career-high world ranking of 160, and second, she finally picked up victories this year against opponents ranked in the top 100 in the world. 

Eala already is a history maker, too. 

The 5-foot-9 teen is the first Filipino to win a junior Grand Slam singles tittle, winning the 2022 US Open girls tournament. She also won the junior doubles crown twice in the 2020 Australian Open and the 2021 French Open.

Eala was a double bronze medal winner in her Asian Games debut in 2023, ending the Philippines’ nearly two-decade tennis medal drought and earning for the country its first medal in women’s tennis in 57 years.

But while Eala has looked sharp in this year’s French Open qualifiers, her Argentine foe Riera will be the obvious favorite in their match. 

Just this week, Riera achieved a career-high world ranking of 93. The 21-year-old also emerged champion in two ITF events in the past month. 

Eala will have to let her powerful groundstrokes put the Argentine on the back foot and grind her down. She will also need to be steady and in control the entire match against an opponent known for her patience and for not being error-prone. 

A slow start similar to her match against Preston, which was also riddled with double faults, will not cut it against an opponent of Riera’s caliber. 

Filipinos in the Grand Slam

Before Mamiit’s men’s singles stint in the 2004 Australian Open, he advanced to the second round of the Australian Open (1999, 2001), US Open (1999), and French Open (2001, 2002). He also played in the Wimbledon opening round (1999, 2001, 2002). 

Mamiit, though, still represented the United States during those years. He changed federations and started representing the Philippines in 2005. 

Beyond the second round, one would have to trace back seven decades for a better finish by a Filipino. 

Ampon, nicknamed the “Mighty Mite,” made the quarterfinals of the French Open in 1952 and 1953.

Widely regarded as the greatest Filipino tennis player of all time, Ampon likewise got as far as the fourth round of the US Open four times (1948-1950, 1952) and the third round of Wimbledon thrice (1949-1950, 1953). 

Deyro, another legendary name, reached the fourth round of the French Open in 1951 and 1953. He also advanced all the way to the third round of the US Open (1946, 1955) and Wimbledon (1948, 1953).

The best finish by a Filipino in a Grand Slam event was achieved by doubles specialist Huey. Partnering with Max Mirnyi of Belarus, the pair reached the men’s doubles semifinals of Wimbledon in 2016. 

Huey also reached the men’s doubles quarterfinals of the US Open in 2013 and the Australian Open in 2014 and 2016.

Four other Filipinos who played in a Grand Slam singles events were Jose (1955 US Open first round); Carmona (1946 US Open second round, 1950 and 1951 French Open second round, 1950 Wimbledon third round); and Hernandez (1959 Australian Open second round, 1961 US Open second round, 1962 Wimbledon second round). 

Taino cracked the main draw of the US Open in 2001 and 2002, but like Mamiit, he only started representing the Philippines in 2005. 

Qualifying journey

Both Eala and Riera have been looking in form, thus far, in this year’s French Open qualifiers. 

The Filipina chalked up wins over world No. 197 Ma Ye-Xin of China, 6-1, 6-1, in the opening round and world No. 137 Preston of Australia, 4-6, 6-4, 7-5, in the second

Meanwhile, the Argentine prevailed over Natalija Kostic of Serbia in the opener, 6-0, 6-2, then followed it up by downing Harmony Tan of France, 6-3, 6-2. 

Last May 5, Riera ruled the ITF W100 Wiesbaden Tennis Open in Germany, winning over 2022 Wimbledon quarterfinalist and hometown bet Jule Niemeier in the finals. 

Two weeks prior, Riera also clinched the title in the ITF W75 Axion Open in Switzerland. 

Riera holds victories over highly touted players such as French Open and US Open quarterfinalist Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan, former world No. 31 Mayar Sherif of Egypt, Bulgaria’s top player and former world No. 61 Viktoriya Tomova, and current world No. 18 Ekaterina Alexandrova of Russia. 

Eala, on the other hand, had an abbreviated campaign the previous week in Croatia, where she was ousted in the opening round of the ITF W75 Zagreb.

But last April 23, Eala stunned world No. 41 and former US Open quarterfinalist Lesia Tsurenko of Ukraine, 2-6, 6-4, 6-4, in the opening round of the WTA 1000 Madrid Open in Spain. This was only the second time that Eala advanced past the first round of a WTA event. 

One common opponent that both Eala and Riera have faced this year is former world No. 50 Anna Bondar of Hungary. 

Last February, Eala downed Bondar, 6-3, 6-1, in the ITF W50 1st Empire Women’s Indoor 2024 in Trnava, Slovakia. Riera prevailed over Bondar in the finals of the Axion Open, 6-3, 7-6(2).

But if Eala pulls of another upset, a Filipino will finally be in the singles main draw of a Grand Slam for the first time in 20 years. –

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