It’s easy to get excited when our homegrown athletes compete on the global playing field. One Pinoy getting our hopes up these days is up-and-coming tennis star Alex Eala.
There is much to rave about with this young Filipina. She is a Rafa Nadal Academy scholar, high on the world junior rankings, and has two professional titles to date.
But it’s no secret that many tennis players start young—Nadal turned pro at 15, Federer at 16.
So, let’s stack Eala against two of the most recognizable women in the sport: Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova (in their teens, of course).
Age 4: Starting young
Let’s start at the beginning. Alex Eala began playing tennis at four years old, the same age that both Williams and Sharapova began.
We’ll give each of them one tennis ball for this step in this round. Let’s see how many more Eala can land through the years.
Age 14: Professional debuts
Both Williams and Sharapova debuted on the WTA Tour at only 14 years old. Williams made her professional debut in the 1995 Bell Challenge in Quebec, though losing in the first round.
Meanwhile, in Sharapova’s first professional match in the Pacific Life Open in 2002, she made it to the second round.
Keeping up, Eala made her professional debut at age 14 at the ITF Women’s World Tour in Monastir in 2020. She won her first professional match.
Though the ITF Women’s World Tour is a tier below the WTA Tour, the young Filipina seems to be on the right path. We’ll give one ball for Sharapova’s win, and half a ball each to Williams and Eala.
Age 15: Junior rankings
Eala continued to impress at major events. At 15, she reached the semifinals of the 2020 French Open girls’ singles tournament—a major feat for the young ace. However, 15-year-old Sharapova took it one step higher, reaching the finals stage of the 2002 Junior Wimbledon. Advantage: Sharapova.
Sharapova ended her fifteenth year reaching the world rank number six on the ITF junior rankings. Eala finished hers at number two. Deuce—one ball each.
Unlike Eala and Sharapova, at age 15, Serena Williams and her older sister Venus opted not to play in the Junior Circuit. Or, at least their dad Richard made that decision for them.
Age 16: World Tours and Grand Slams
In less than a year after going pro, Alex Eala won her first professional title a the ITF W15 Tournament in Manacor, Tunisia in 2021. In April this year, the 16-year-old bagged her second at the ITF W25 Tournament in Chiang Rai, Thailand.
On the other side of the court, at 16, Sharapova was just about to win her first Professional Title at the 2003 Japan Open Tennis Championships of the WTA Tour.
Again, the WTA Tour is a tier above the ITF Women’s World Tour, so we’ll hand one ball for Eala’s two ITF titles, and one ball to Sharapova’s WTA title.
Now turning heads to our other matchup, Williams was already building her sterling reputation at 16. Making multiple Grand Slam debuts, and winning her first Grand Slam title in Wimbledon 1998 for the mixed doubles event with partner Max Mirnyi. This was an ace for Williams. She’ll get two.
Having just turned 17 last May 23, she capped off her 16th year with three bronze medals in her debut at the 2021 Southeast Asian Games. Alex Eala certainly impresses on her own side of the court. With three tennis balls and a half to finish, her junior and professional successes kept her strong against two budding champions.
As Eala continues on her current trajectory, there is already much to be excited about, as there once was for Sharapova and Williams in their later teens.
At age 17, Williams reached the US Open finals in 1999 and won her first Grand Slam singles title. Sharapova reached the same feat.
As a seventeen-year-old at Wimbledon in 2004, she made it to the finals and won her first Grand Slam singles title, upsetting none other than Serena herself.
By the time they were eighteen, both Grand Slam winners stood high on the world rankings. Williams ranked fourth in 1999, and Sharapova was world number one in 2005. The rest is now history.
Of course, Sharapova and Williams, both as competitive as they were in their early years, still needed to earn their places among the greats. The same will be true for Alex Eala.
Although the future is never set in stone for a young athlete, for our tennis star, it certainly seems bright.