MANILA, Philippines – The quest to advance to the second round of a Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) 1000 event remains elusive for Alex Eala.
The 17-year-old Filipina tennis sensation banked on her youth and speed but these proved not enough against the veteran savvy and guile of 32-year-old Irina-Camelia Begu of Romania as Eala fell in straight sets, 6-2, 7-5, in the opening round of the WTA Miami Open on Tuesday, March 21 (Wednesday, March 22, Manila time) at the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, Florida,
Up against the highest-ranked player she has ever faced in her young career, Eala struggled mightily against the powerful and consistent ground strokes of Begu, who is currently 34th in the world.
The Romanian veteran, who was named the WTA Newcomer of the Year in 2011, reached a peak off No. 22 in 2016.
Eala actually got off to a promising start as she opened the match by going up 2-0 after converting on an early break. But her Romanian foe, owner of five WTA singles titles, quickly got over the initial shock and regained her bearing.
Begu broke back in the third game when Eala committed the third of her six double faults. Having survived the initial onslaught from the Filipina youngster, the Romanian began to put Eala on her back foot the rest of the first set.
Making sure not to allow Eala any more chances to score, Begu won six straight games to close out the first set.
The second set had an almost similar start as the first as Eala once again broke serve to go up 2-0.
After Begu finally got on the scoreboard at 1-2, Eala raced to a 5-1 lead and seemed well on her way to extending the match to a deciding set.
Begu – who has reached the fourth round of the French Open and the Australian Open, and the second round of Wimbledon and the US Open – dug deep and showed the composure earned from almost 18 years in the pro tour.
The Romanian got back in the match by constantly pouncing on Eala’s weak and predictable service game, something pointed out repeatedly by the match commentator, the legendary Martina Navratilova.
Begu broke Eala’s serve three times and captured the next six games to take the fight out of her teenage foe.
It was a painful loss for Eala, who is one of only nine teenagers in the field of close to a hundred of the top players in the world.
At 219th in the world, Eala is the second-lowest ranked player seeded automatically in the main draw, just higher than 21-year-old American Hailey Baptiste, who is No. 260.
Eala also earned a wildcard slot to the main draw of the Miami Open in 2022 where she was booted out in the opening round by veteran Madison Brengle of the United States, 6-1, 6-2. – Rappler.com
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