ALEXANDRA Maniego Eala is only 14. Competing in the Australian Open girls juniors category against 18 year olds, she won the doubles title with partner Priska Madelyn Nugroho from Indonesia.
Alex becomes the second Filipino tennis player (after Niño Alcantara won the boys doubles crown in Melbourne in 2009) to lift a junior Grand Slam trophy.
The first time I saw Alex was in Puerto Princesa, Palawan. It was October 2012 and my daughter Jana was competing in the 16-and-under category. A day prior to the tournament start, we booked a nearby tennis court to practice. Swatting forehands and swinging her two-fisted backhand was a cute little girl barely the height of the tennis net. All of seven years old, Alex was already a tennis prodigy. Guided by her Lolo Bobby Maniego, her practice sessions were serious and intense. She was only seven.
Seven years later in Melbourne, Alex and her partner Priska had to win five times this week to win the crown. Their most challenging victory came last Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020, when they played top-seeds Bartone and Fruhvirtova. They lost the first set, 6-1. After claiming the 2nd set (7-5), they trailed in the super-tiebreak, 7-1, before winning nine of the last 10 points and the match, 10-8.
In their championship game last Friday, the Filipina-Indonesian pair had an easy 6-1, 6-2 match that lasted only 49 minutes. (You can see all the matches on YouTube.)
Now ranked world No. 8 in girls juniors, Alex has a smashing future ahead of her. She can play in the juniors category until 2023 and, in the coming years, has an excellent chance of becoming world No. 1 as her older rivals will be graduating from the junior ranks. (Only one other Filipino, if I’m not mistaken, has gone on to be world No. 1 in juniors. That’s Manny Tolentino, who did it in 1985.)
The support of the family of Alex is one of the important reasons for her success. Dad Mike (who’s extremely nice and a fellow Ilonggo) gets to travel with Alex on some tournaments. Her mom Rizza also flew to Melbourne to watch her daughter. Rizza is the chief financial officer of Globe Telecom and, during her competitive days, was a 1985 SEA Games bronze medalist in the 100-meter backstroke. Alex has an older brother named Michael Francis “Miko,” who was ranked as high as 107 in the junior world rankings. Miko is 17 years old.
Rafael Nadal is also instrumental in Alex’s triumphs. The past year or so, Alex has studied and trained in the Rafa Nadal Academy in Mallorca, Spain. With the guidance of Toni Nadal and his coaches, the left-handed Alex has flourished. (During Nadal’s quarterfinals loss to Dominic Thiem last Thursday, whenever the TV cameraman focused on Rafa’s wife Xisca, two others seated behind her were also visible: Alex’s parents Mike and Rizza. They sat at Nadal’s exclusive player’s box.)
Next major for Alex is Roland Garros in Paris, where she’ll aim to do well in singles and to repeat as Grand Slam doubles champion.