April 25, 2024

Bronze medalist Alex Eala gets praise for her mentality vs top seed Zheng Qinwen in Asian Games semifinals

Bronze medalist Alex Eala gets praise for her mentality vs top seed Zheng Qinwen in Asian Games semifinals
One Sports/Paolo del Rosario

Can the 18-year-old Alex Eala compete with elite tennis players consistently at the senior level? If her performance against top seed Zheng Qinwen of China at the Asian Games women's singles semifinals is any indication, she's pretty close.

Eala, ranked 190 in the WTA rankings, faced her biggest challenge on Thursday in world no. 23 Zheng. The Filipina tennis star saved three match points and forced a tiebreak to win the second set. She even had a 3-1 lead in the final frame, but the 20-year-old Chinese prevailed, 6-1, 6(5)-7, 6-3.

"The distance is not that big," Eala's coach Daniel Gomez da Costa told One Sports' Paolo del Rosario after the three-hour match.

"She was very close [against Zheng]. But to be able to play consistently at this level, she still has to work on a lot. It's not everyday that we're gonna play at this level. We still have to work, work, work, be patient. She's on the right way, for sure."

Eala couldn't help but show her emotions after snatching the second set against the higher-ranked opponent.

"You just have to be in the present, not lose faith," Eala told One Sports. "If you just keep holding on, kapit lang, eventually you'll get your opportunity to break or get ahead in the score."

Zheng admitted she didn't adapt fast enough in that grueling set.

"When she hit the ball faster than me, I didn't change my tactic fast," Zheng said after the match.

She saw plenty of herself in the younger Eala though.

"She hit the ball hard like when I was at her age. I feel I see some similarities with me when I play against her," Zheng shared.

"I like to hit the ball fast. When I play somebody better than me, I [push] myself. I have respect for her. Hopefully she does well in the future."

It's been a grueling week for Eala, who also had to keep herself healthy. She's been playing for four days straight. It's also the third consecutive time that the Filipina will be playing both in the singles and in the mixed doubles.

Eala though sees it as a welcome challenge.

"This week in general showed me how tough I can be mentally," Eala reflected, adding how it gave her more confidence for future competitions.

All is not lost for her, she still has the mixed doubles quarterfinals with Francis Alcantara.

"I know we're all disappointed na 'di ako nanalo today," Eala admitted, "But this is my first Asian Games. Despite the loss today, I'm still happy that I'll be able to bring home a medal for the Philippines."

(With reports from Paolo del Rosario, One Sports)