UNDER the gloomy skies of Flushing Meadows in Queens – a tennis princess has risen.
Alex Eala — the 17-year-old Filipina wunderkind — netted a piece of history as she reigned supreme in the prestigious 2022 US Open junior championships early Sunday morning (Manila time) at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York City for her first career singles Grand Slam crown.
Ms. Eala, the No. 10 seed, fashioned out a masterful 6-2, 6-4 win over No. 2 seed Lucie Havlickova of the Czech Republic and in the process ascended to the throne as the first Filipina to win any junior singles Grand Slam in her young but already decorated career.
The left-handed protégé, like her mentor and idol Rafael Nadal, needed only 68 minutes to dispatch the heavy favorite Ms. Havlickova, also the world junior No. 3, to cap off a perfect US Open campaign.
Through six rounds of the elite 64-strong US major draw, Ms. Eala did not yield a single set against a formidable cast of higher-ranked counterparts despite playing in her first junior tourney this season after focusing in the women’s professional circuit.
Serving for her and the Philippines’ history, Ms. Eala’s dream run was realized in a crisp backhand right into the centerfield that Ms. Havlickova found a tough one to return as the crowd erupted to her victory.
Ms. Eala, a scholar of the Rafael Nadal Academy in Spain, dedicated her glory to the millions of Filipino fans back home.
Hell-bent on ending a string of heartbreaks in the girls’ singles play, the two-time doubles Grand Slam holder Eala (2020 Australian Open, 2021 French Open) wiped out her opponents in the first five rounds bannered by a 6-1, 7-6(5) win over Canada’s Victoria Mboko to make the US Open finals.
That was already a milestone for Ms. Eala, a former world junior No. 2 and current WTA No. 297, as the first player from the Philippines to barge into any junior singles Grand Slam finals — where she reached even greater heights.
Ranged against the 2022 French Open in Ms. Havlickova for all the marbles, Ms. Eala definitely saved her best for last and coasted to an easy first-set victory before launching a 3-0 finishing kick in the second frame to flip a 3-4 deficit for the US Open diadem.
It’s the fitting culmination in a relentless tennis major title hunt for Ms. Eala, whose previous best finish was a Final Four finish in 2020 Roland Garros, after a couple of misses last year with a quarterfinal placing in the US Open, a second-round exit in Wimbledon and a first-round stint in French Open.
Part of her preparations for this moment was a brief training with Poland’s Iga Swiatek in the 2021 Miami Open that served as Ms. Eala’s WTA debut.
A year later, both rose as US Open champions for the first time as Ms. Swiatek, now world No. 1, ruled the women’s tournament. — John Bryan Ulanday