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Sports

SEA Games, Asiad in Eala’s sights

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson - The Philippine Star

Alex Eala is back at the Rafael Nadal Tennis Academy in Mallorca, Spain and getting ready for her first pro tournament of the year next week. Shes healed from the foot injury that hampered her campaign at the last US Open and looking forward to mixing it up with the sports big names. Eala, 16, will focus on the pro tour and join junior Grand Slams only in Europe. Now on her fourth year at the Nadal Academy, shes determined to make strides as a pro but isnt putting added pressure on herself by setting a world ranking goal. At the moment, Eala is rated No. 527 in the WTA Tour, down from No. 505 last August. Shes No. 8 in the latest International Tennis Federation world junior rankings but was once No. 2.

Eala is closely working with Brazilian-Spanish coach Dani Gomez, French coach Adrien Vaseux and fitness coach Josep Salva at the Academy. Its a grueling grind to stay in top shape but Eala isnt backing off from the challenge. Alejandro Barrientos and Eala are the only Filipinos training at the Academy. Eala is the only Asian and one of five players under Gomezwatch.

Gomez says he cant say enough about Ealas potentials. “Shes all good, shes a good girl, she comes from a good family with a good culture,” he says. “What do I like about her? Shes offense-minded, makes great choices on the court, surprises her opponents, controls her emotions, very disciplined in camp, has a lot of will to win, makes winners easily, has a big return of service, knows how to close out matches. Her typical day is two hours and 45 minutes of court training in the morning plus an hour for fitness then in the afternoon, we do another hour of technique on different days.”

Gomez says hes not inclined to build a mold for Eala to be like any player. Eala herself says shed like to develop her own identity and style. Because of her world ranking, shell be able to play in tournaments where the prize money is up to $25,000. “Wed like to play in those tournaments in Europe or in Asia if theres a chance,” says Gomez. “Alex would love to play close to home. Right now, were looking at tournaments three weeks in a row at the Academy.” Eala says playing in the SEA and Asian Games this year is in her sights. “Im super excited to represent our country and join the national team,” she adds. Qualifying for the Olympics down the road would be a dream come true.

Eala says while she has achieved success in doubles, her priority is to move up in singles. “Doubles is a very different game,” she says. “Partners adjust to each other. Its not uncommon for you to play with different partners. The key is balance. If your partner is down, you try to bring her up. You work together as a team.” Eala teamed with Indonesias Priska Nugroho to win the 2020 Australian Open junior doubles crown and Russias Oksana Selekhmeteva to bag the 2021 French Open junior doubles title.

Last December, Eala was out of action for two weeks recovering from COVID. Even Gomez wasnt spared by the virus. But theyre both fine now, working hard at the Academy and hoping for better things to happen this year. An exclusive interview with Eala and Gomez will be shown on PlayItRightTV via YouTube and FaceBook this Sunday at 10 a.m.

ALEX EALA

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