Alex Eala: A refreshing change

by
ALEXANDRA EALA
with her US Open junior trophy. — ALEX EALA FB PAGE

Just as the world was mourning the death of Queen Elizabeth II, elsewhere in the news (aside from the Russian invasion of Ukraine), two sports icons announced their retirement from tennis while a 17-year-old Filipina achieved history by being the first tennis player from the Philippines to win a Junior Grand Slam in the US Open.

Serena Williams announced her retirement a few weeks ago after earning 23 Grand Slam titles over a 23-year period, having turned professional in 1995 at the age of 14, the same age that sister Venus turned pro after having shunned the juniors circuit. Serena turns 41 on Sept. 26. Serena, who played second fiddle to older sister Venus for a number of years before breaking into her own, is believed to have earned close to $100 million throughout her career.

In the movie King Richard and in interviews, Serena’s father-coach, Richard, revealed that “it was part of the plan to first develop Venus and later on, Serena, the better player capable of becoming world number one.” Serena so dominated the women’s circuit that she was ranked world number one by the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) for 310 weeks.

It was clear that from the moment Williams announced her retirement that she had, unlike other athletes who lacked cerebral qualities and suffered from some kind of mental health issues, a vision of life to which she had given some serious and intelligent thought.

Joseph Coughlin, senior contributor of Forbes, wrote in mid-August that, “tennis star Serena Williams, announced her ‘retirement’ from tennis this week while challenging the very idea of retirement.” In an article she wrote for Vogue magazine, Williams said, “I have never liked the word ‘retirement.’ It doesn’t feel like a modern word to me… Maybe the best word to describe what I’m up to is ‘evolution.’ I’m here to tell you that I’m evolving away from tennis, toward other things that are important to me.” The other things important to Serena is motherhood and having another baby with husband, American born Armenian Alexis Ohanian, a well-known internet entrepreneur.

Another tennis great, “evolving away from tennis” is 41-year-old Swiss player, Roger Federer, winner of 20 Grand Slam singles titles.

Sports journalist Tom Goldman narrated on Twitter his own thoughts on Federer’s retirement and shared Federer’s sentiments.

Goldman states that: “he (Federer) is 41 (like Serena Williams) and done. He’s had three straight years of dealing with injuries and surgeries, mainly a bulky knee. And its proving to be too much.” Goldman then provides some quotes from Federer: “I’ve worked hard to return to full competitive form. But I also know my body’s capacities and limits, and its message to me lately has been clear.”

Federer will reportedly play one more event, the Laver Cup in London around the third week of September after the United Kingdom has buried Queen Elizabeth. By that time, King Charles III and Prime Minister Liz Truss would have been firmly ensconced in their respective positions as head of state and head of government.

The timing of Federer’s announcement, coming as it did after Serena Williams played and lost her farewell match to the 29-year-old Croatian-born Australian, Ajla Tomljanovic (who is 12 years Serena’s junior) in the third round, 7-5, 6-7 (3), 6-1, was not lost on keen observers of the international tennis scene. Federer saw for himself the young (almost half his age), fast, hard-hitting athletic players like eventual winner Carlos Alcaraz. As these same observers pointed out, Federer must have factored these into his decision to retire.

Those who have followed Federer’s career like Goldman point out the transformation of Federer, from a bratty 19-year-old to a “flowing, elegant, player who always seemed in position and never looked awkward. He had a grace and sportsmanship that seemed to fit Wimbledon best with its manners and history. He won a record eight singles titles there. Interestingly, that sportsmanship as an adult player is quite the opposite of him as a kid. He was often a terror on the court, throwing his racquet, swearing. He said it took till about the age of 19 to get that under control and to stop embarrassing his parents who threatened to watch him if he kept up his bad behavior.”

At the other end of the spectrum, in the women’s juniors ranks, comes Alexandra Maniego Eala, claiming and creating a real and international distinction as the first player from the Philippines to win a Grand Slam junior singles title, defeating Lucie Havlickova in the US Open girls final on Sept. 10 at the Billie Jean King Tennis Center in New York City.

The 17-year-old, 5’9”, 10th seed Eala claimed her first Grand Slam junior singles title with a 6-2, 6-4 win over number two seed Lucie Havlickova in the US Open girls’ final. The WTA Tour reported that Eala had already captured two Grand Slam junior doubles crowns, winning the 2020 Australian Open with Piska Nugroho and Roland Garros 2021 with Oksana Selekhmeteva. The WTA pointed out that Eala’s previous best performance in junior singles had been a semifinal run at Roland Garros 2020, where she fell to the eventual champion, France’s Elsa Jacquemot.

Eala had not competed at the junior level since December 2021 at the Orange Bowl tournament. During her absence from juniors’ competitions, Eala had competed among the pros as part of a plan to further sharpen her physical and mental skills. All throughout that period, she made sure she continued to be physically able to perform specific skill sets that would give her a competitive edge.

Eala revealed that her return paid off as the WTA reported she stormed through all six matches without dropping a set. Only Taylah Preston and Victoria Mboko managed to take her as far as a tiebreak, in the third round and semifinals respectively.

In the US Open finals, Eala spoiled Havlickova’s bid to become the first player to win two Grand Slam titles in one season since 2013. The Czech’s attempt to impose her power game on Eala did not work as the former buried herself under 21 unforced errors.

The thousands who listened to Eala speak in English and Tagalog after winning the crown were one in saying that such a speech was truly refreshing. Alex simply said that her victory was for Philippine tennis. No hackneyed, so-called obligatory declarations “that this victory was for flag and country” which create obvious disconnects as such assertions come from personalities who face all sorts of integrity and, possibly, even mental health issues.

However, here is a young well-bred lady who admits that she is ambitious enough to chase bigger dreams. She will, however, do it honestly, one step at a time, step-by-step, with the support of equally well-mannered parents who do not depend on media-driven propagandists, influencers, and politicians to launch an orchestrated lobby for support for their talented, obedient, and polite daughter.

Those familiar with sports politics know that Alex Eala stands for a refreshing change in a polluted and toxic environment. We pray and hope she remains an authentic role model who brings hope.

Philip Ella Juico’s areas of interest include the protection and promotion of democracy, free markets, sustainable development, social responsibility and sports as a tool for social development. He obtained his doctorate in business at De La Salle University. Dr. Juico served as secretary of Agrarian Reform during the Corazon C. Aquino administration.

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