Filipino tennis sensation Alex Eala may have narrowly missed out on a shot at gold, but she proudly ended the Philippines’ 17-year medal drought in tennis with a hard-fought bronze at the Olympic Tennis Centre in Hangzhou.
Eala faced the formidable Chinese top seed, Zheng Qinwen, in the semi-finals of the women’s singles competition on Thursday, September 28. Despite being several inches shorter than her opponent, the 18-year-old Eala put up a valiant fight.
The Filipino endured a sluggish start, losing the first set 1-6. However, she roared back in the second set, taking it 7-6 (7-5) with a dominant performance.
Fatigue began to take its toll on Eala, who had played both singles and mixed doubles the previous day. Her mixed doubles match with first-time partner Francis Alcantara had also gone the distance, requiring three sets to defeat the top-seeded Indian pair of Yuki Bhambri and Ankita Ravinderkrishan Raina.
Eala and Alcantara had a chance to secure another bronze if they could overcome their Thai rivals in the quarterfinals of the mixed doubles event.
In the decisive third set of her singles match against Zheng Qinwen, Eala briefly held a 3-1 lead, showing her mettle with a sizzling return. However, her magic seemed to disappear suddenly, as she could only score four more points in the match.
As Eala appeared exhausted and weary, her Chinese opponent, ranked No. 23 in the world, gained momentum and started unleashing wicked forehand winners. Eala struggled to score in the eighth game, sealing her 3-6 defeat.
Despite the loss, Eala displayed tremendous determination and sportsmanship. She took to Facebook, saying, “I left it all out on the court today. First time playing a WTA top 25 player, and so proud of putting up a 3-hour long fight.”
“Disappointed that I won’t be placing higher in the singles event, but happy to say I did everything I could. For my first Asian Games, I finished bronze for the women’s singles event, and am still in the race for the mixed doubles,” Eala added.
The Philippine tennis community celebrated Eala’s historic bronze, as she became the first Filipino athlete to win a medal in tennis at the Asian Games since Cecil Mamiit and Eric Taino secured two bronze medals 17 years ago in Doha.
Eala earlier made history with a remarkable comeback win against Japanese player Kyoka Okamura in their September 27 quarterfinals.
Eala, seeded No. 4, endured a disastrous start in the match, losing the first set 0-6 to Okamura, who displayed a solid baseline game. Eala’s struggles continued into the second set as she dropped her first service game, allowing Okamura to take a 2-0 lead.
However, the young Filipina sensation found her second wind and mounted a furious rally to win the second set, 7-5, turning the tide in her favor. The third set saw Eala in complete control, dictating the tempo and winning it 6-0.
Her feat, thus, set up a semis showdown with Zheng Qinwen.