The Philippines is not one of the first countries that spring to mind when thinking about tennis players, nor indeed tennis heritage. But that may be about to change with the emergence of 17-year-old Alexandra Eala, who has become the first player from that country to win a junior Grand Slam singles title.
I think both of us were quite tired,. It's normal with a finals match. We're not going to be super fresh. I think she did hold out really well, especially in the second set. Alexandra Eale
In doing so, and cheered on by her parents, Michael and Reza together with many enthusiastic, New York based supporters from her home country, Eala, who was seeded 10, defeated hot favourite and French junior singles title holder Lucie Havlickova, seeded 2, in straight sets, 6-2 6-4, concluding a run which saw her win all of her six matches without losing a set.
The left hander may well have benefitted from the early defeat of No 1 seed and Australian Open finalist, Sofia Costoulas, from Genk in Belgium, who exited the tournament in the third round. And she may also have gained an advantage from the fact that Havlickova arrived at her final having twice had to play three matches in a day, following a rain delayed Tuesday
On the Friday, the 17-year-old Czech Republic player played her singles semi and then played two further doubles matches with her partner, the Russian Diana Shnaider, while Eala only had her singles semi-final to play against Canada’s Victoria Mboko, seeded 9, a match which she won comfortably in straight sets in just over an hour.
“I think both of us were quite tired,” Eala said. “It’s normal with a finals match. We’re not going to be super fresh. I think she did hold out really well, especially in the second set.”
Eala, who already has a WTA ranking of 297 (at time of going to press) and who is based at the Rafael Nadal Academy in Spain, was the first to recognise that her win was a defining moment both for her personally and for Asian tennis.
“I think this is a huge step for me personally, as well (as for my country). I’m super happy to represent my country and do something with a big platform, being able to inspire other younger people.”
Her progress has not gone unnoticed by former Filipino professionals who have travelled the road before her.
Cecil Mamiit, a former US professional who went on to represent the Philippines and who now coaches on the WTA Tour, commented, “She could be the Manny Pacquiao of tennis,” he said. “There’s been a lot of hype around her in the tennis community at home, and she is definitely worth it.”
Despite Havlickova’s loss, there was some consolation for her in that, following her singles disappointment, she went on, with Shnaider, to win her second junior doubles title of the year, overcoming the German pairing Carolina Kuhl and Ella Seidel, 6-3 6-2.
In the boys’ singles, there was a first Grand Slam victory for 16-year-old Martin Landaluce who outlasted Belgium’s Gilles Bailly, also 16 and seeded 2, in three long and punishing sets, 7-6 5-7 6-2. It was his second win over the Belgian this year, having scored a straight sets victory over him at Wimbledon earlier this year.
The blond Spaniard, who is based in Madrid, coached by his father, Alejandro, and listens to Eminem, is just another in the long line of Spanish players following in the footsteps of Rafa Nadal, something acknowledged by the new singles champion.
“I think in part it is the mentality we have as a country,” said Landaluce. “We are fighters. Especially I think we have had Rafa Nadal, one of the best persons, best examples of sport management. Having him, and now Carlos Alcaraz…..we try to win in every match, in every moment. Also, we have Nadal that is the best example for that.”
His proud father, Alejandro, believes that this is the start of some good things for his son.
“Martin is always working hard, and we are a family of tennis,” he said. “Martin is always happy when he’s on the court. This is the beginning of our journey. But a great end to this week.”
Bailly, a junior runner up at Roland Garros earlier this year to France’s Gabriel Debru, was gracious in defeat.
“My tactics were good, but he was just so excellent,” said Bailly. “Honestly, this one hurts more than Paris. I felt here in the first set I was in control, the second set I was in control, and I just didn’t take my chances.”
In the boys’ doubles final, the American team of Ozan Baris and Nishesh Basavereddy, seeded 8, defeated Juan Carlos Prado Angelo of Bolivia and Dylan Dietrich of Switzerland for the loss of just two games, 6-1 6-1. Both players come from Indiana, and for both, it was their first Grand Slam title together.
“We’ve known each other for a really long time. I think our chemistry is good. I guess we just play well together” said Basavereddy.