The week Alex Eala won her first pro singles title was the same week of her finals at Rafael Nadal Academy (RNA), where she’s currently a scholar.
Winning wasn’t the only thing she had in mind in her initial foray into the pro circuit. Her school principal, after all, was among those in the stands during the tournament.
“I was so eager to show I was good; that I’m missing school for a reason,” said the 15-year-old tennis ace in a chat with Francis Casey Alcantara in a special episode of Tennis Talks streamed late Friday.
Eala wanted to show she was worthy of RNA’s trust in her. The school, which hosted the $15,000-per-leg Manacor tournament series last month, would often schedule her matches in a way that it didn’t coincide with her classes. When the conflict was unavoidable, Eala was allowed to miss class to compete.
The grind, as it is with elite athletes seeking greatness, wasn’t easy.
“It was a super tough week,” Eala said of mixing her competition schedule with her finals schedule.
But she has a goal in mind and Eala is doing everything to get to that goal. On school days, she trains and attends her classes. On weekends, she works out.
“I am working very hard and I practice very hard,” she said. Nothing extraordinary in what I do, I just put in extra work on the small things.”
The results are slowly showing. Eala is No. 2 in the world among girls and No. 763 among women. She won the Australian Open girls’ doubles title alongside Indonesian Priska Nugroho in January 2020, and reached the French Open girls’ singles semifinals later that year.
Next Asian star?
“I like winning and I like that I’m good at it,” said Eala.
What she doesn’t do is put undue pressure on herself, even as people see her as potentially the sport’s next Asian superstar.
“Maybe it’s because I’m not pressuring myself to do anything quickly, you know, going up in ranks super, super fast,” said Eala. “I’m just improving on my game day by day.”
Her fitness—including her physique and footwork—improved vastly over the few years she has been at RNA. “But I think that still needs a lot of improvement. My serves too, needs more work.”
But more than her skills, it’s her mental maturity that separates her from opponents her age. It was in full display when Eala shocked 28-year-old Yvonne Cavalle-Reimers (5-7, 6-1, 6-2) of Spain for her first ever women’s singles title.
“I don’t feel scared playing against someone better than me,” Eala told Alcantara, who incidentally was an Australian Open juniors doubles champion himself.
She added: “It’s always better for me going up against someone with more experience.”
Eala said she would like to one day follow the footsteps of one of her idols, Li Na, who was the first Asian woman to have won Grand Slam titles (Australian Open 2014 and French Open 2011).
“In 10 years, I’d like to play in a higher level, but I don’t want to jinx it,” she said.
The country, too, is keeping its finger crossed.
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