Top Filipino Eala eases into career-high rank

THERE are only two WTA Tour players under 21 who are their country’s top ranked player inside the Top 100, and while losing Australian Open semi-finalist Coco Gauff is a name everyone is familiar with, far less people are aware of the other, Philippines’ Alexandra Eala.

Playing world’s away, while world number three Gauff racked up her first US Open title and fell one win short of back-to-back titles with defeat to second seed Aryna Sabalenka, Eala has been quietly working her way inside the top 100, and after victory in the W50 at Pune, achieved a career-high ranking of 184th in the world.

But why is Eala a name to keep an eye on in the future?

The talented teenager won the Junior Girls US Open back in 2022, and reached the heights of world number two in the Junior Rankings. In that run, she defeated now well known Russian, Mirra Andreeva 6-4 6-0 and talented Czech, Lucie Havlickova in the quarters and final respectively, not dropping a set for the entire tournament as 10th seed.

She is a left-handed, 175cm talent who also won a bronze medal at the Southeast Asian Games in 2021, and Asian Games in 2022. Along with her singles major, she won doubles major titles at the Australian Open (2020) and French Open (2021) aged just 14 and 16 respectively.

Eala turned 18 last May, and though she did attempt to qualify for the Australian Open, copped former top 30 player Rebecca Peterson in the first round so had an early exit. In that match, Eala tried to match Peterson’s power, but was unable to do so cleanly, hitting 38 unforced errors – including seven return unforced errors – for the 16 winners. The more experienced Peterson served six aces among 30 winners, and only had the 25 unforced errors. The Swede also capitalised on three of five break points, while Eala was unable to break from five opportunities.

In the end, the Filipino youngster went down 6-2 7-5, but improved in the second set to only win five less points than her opponent.

What about prior to 2024?

A first round qualifying defeat at Canberra in the WTA 125 event to Swiss fifth seed Celine Naef also meant her 2024 season was slow to start, especially coming off a good finish to last year.

Eala reached the final in a W40 event in Petange where she went down to the 101st ranked Oceane Dodin. Since then, Dodin reached the fourth round of the Australian Open, showing good form. For Eala, her 2023 season was one to remember at ITF level, winning an impressive 69.4 per cent of her matches (34-15) backing up a similar 66.7 per cent (32-16) from 2022.

The Filipino won W25 titles at Yecla in May and Roehampton in August, and also made the Aldershot final a week after her Roehampton title. Unfortunately for Eala, she has not been able to translate that form onto the WTA Tour, recording just the one win back in 2021 – a victory for the then 16-year-old wildcard over Argentinian qualifier Paula Ormaechea 7-5 6-2 at Cluj-Napoca – across her nine matches at the level.

Despite that, Eala did start qualifying for more WTA Tour event, making it to the main draw of four events after back-to-back qualifying victories. Some of these wins included the likes of Elizabeth Mandlik (144th in the world) and Elsa Jacquemot (174th). In her six main draw appearances, Eala copped Top 100 players, including three top 50 players in Elise Mertens, Irina-Camelia Begu and Tatjana Maria, where she failed to win a set.

However despite the setbacks, the 18-year-old has composed herself to reach the quarter finals of the ITF Pune 50 event after consecutive victories. As fifth seed, Eala took care of Hungarian Fanny Stollar 6-2 6-2, then just as easily dismantled homecourt lucky loser, Zeel Desai, 6-1 6-2.

Looking ahead to the quarter final, she has her biggest test yet, taking on doubles partner and top seed Latvian and world number Darja Semenistaja. Both will know each other’s games inside and out, but if Eala can cause and upset, she can continue to build on her career-high ranking.

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