IT WAS in October 2012 when well-respected Cebuano tennis guru John Pages first laid his eyes on now tennis ace and Globe ambassador Alexandra Maniego Eala.
Pages, a renowned businessman who once served as regional director of the Philippine Tennis Association (PHILTA), was helping his daughter Jana prepare for a group tournament in Puerto Princesa, Palawan when he noticed a seven-year old girl, standing no taller than the three-foot-high tennis net, engaged in an intense rally with her older brother.
Although Eala was just seven years old at the time, Pages took note that the little lady competed in the Unisex-10-and-under category and played against boys and girls who were much taller and older.
Right then and there, Pages had an inkling of just how bright the future would be for this kid.
“I don’t think Alex won that 10-and-under Palawan tournament, but it was obvious, given her steely focus and the intensity of her left-handed shots, that she was a future star,” shared Pages.
Eight years later, Eala is already the country’s latest sports phenomenon. She is the world’s third-ranked junior tennis player, the 15-year old burnished her reputation further by breaking into the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) top 1000 when she entered the week as the no. 942 ranked player in the world.
This came on the heels of her very first professional title win when she vanquished Spanish netter Yvonne Cavalle-Reimers in the finals of the first leg of the ITF World Tennis Tour W15 Manacor.
“Alex Eala is only 15 but she’s already competing and winning against much-older and more experienced players in the women’s tour,” shared Pages.
Eala, who has been a Globe ambassador since 2013, has not only helped place the Philippines on the tennis map but also serves as a beacon of inspiration for young Filipino tennis players everywhere.
“The young Filipino tennis players are greatly inspired with what Alex has achieved in the international tennis scene. She has proven that best efforts and passion coupled with action will reap successful results. It inspires a lot of junior tennis players to be the best they can be and to keep playing,” said Shan Osorio, the marketing officer of the Citigreen Tennis Resort Cebu, a tennis hub in the south which regularly hosted grassroots tennis tournaments before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
“Alex has shown the world the best traits of the Filipinos. She is hardworking both inside and outside of the tennis courts and she is very determined to achieve her dream to succeed at the professional level,” Osorio added.
A once-in-a-generation talent, Eala wields a lot of influence that will help transform the tennis scene in the country, according to tennis coach and tournament organizer Mario Inguito Craiz.
“Alexandra Eala is an inspiration and a role model to all Filipino age group players. At a tender age, she was able to go far in international competitions,” said Craiz, who is a driving force for the sport in Cagayan de Oro.
“Tennis will soon be a popular sport in the Philippines. Just like when Paradorn Srichapan of Thailand reached a career high as top-9 ranked by ATP, tennis in Thailand has become popular until now.”
Eala won her first grand slam juniors title last year when she teamed with Priska Nugroho of Indonesia to capture the 2020 Australian Open juniors’ double events.
She was also the first Filipina tennis player to reach the semifinals of a junior grand slam singles event during the 2020 French Open in Paris last year.
Eala’s meteoric rise in the sport has been a sight to behold and Pages said all these are just the tip of the iceberg.
“I think it’s just a question of time when Alex will soon become world No. 1 in juniors. This is historic: the only other Filipino to have reached this pinnacle was Manny Tolentino over 40 years ago.”