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MANILA, Philippines – In her first tournament for the 2024 season, on the last day of 2023, Alex Eala played catch-up the entire match and was shown the exit early.
Facing fellow 18-year-old Celine Naef of Switzerland, the Filipina tennis teen star suffered a straight set defeat, 4-6, 5-7, in the opening round of the $164,000 Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) Workday Canberra International qualifiers on Sunday, December 31, at the Canberra Tennis Centre hard court in Australia.
The gap in skills between the two teen stars appeared rather marginal, but Naef was able to convert at key stretches of the match and this spelled the difference in the outcome.
In the opening set, Naef just needed to go up a service break to create the separation she needed to take a one-set advantage.
The trend continued in the second set with Naef once again breaking serve and holding a 3-2 lead. Eala finally tied the count in the sixth game and seized the lead in the seventh game, 4-3. She, however, could not build on her advantage and the score remained tied at 5-5.
It was then that Naef once again made her move and retook the lead by breaking Eala for the 5th time in the match in the 11th game before holding serve in the next game to close out the match after an hour and fifty seven minutes.
Eala reached a career-high of No. 2 in the world junior rankings in 2020, while Naef’s highest ever junior ranking was No. 4 in 2022.
In the pro ranks, however, Naef has climbed the world rankings faster than the Filipina. Eala’s current ranking is at 190th in the world, while Naef is 121st. The Swiss also has more International Tennis Federation (ITF) pro singles titles at 6, compared to Eala’s four ITF championship trophies.
Eala will now have to shift her focus to the Australian Open qualifiers where she will be seeking beginning January 8 a berth in the main draw. – Rappler.com