HANGZHOU, China — Alex Eala surely made a lot of heads turn in her Asian Games debut.
The 18-year-old Eala collected her second bronze medal after teaming up with Francis Casey Alcantara in absorbing a 7-5, 6-3 loss to Liang En-shuo and Huang Tshung-hao of Chinese Taipei in the semifinals of the mixed doubles event of this quadrennial event on Friday at the Hangzhou Olympic Sports Tennis Centre.
It was such a gallant stand for Eala as she became the first Filipino tennis player to win multiple medals since Cecil Mamiit emerged with a pair of bronze medals in the men’s singles and doubles event of the Doha edition of the Asian Games in 2006.
Eala also became the first female Filipino tennis player to pocket an Asian Games medal since Desideria Ampon and Patricia Yngayo won a doubles silver medal in 1966.
Prior to teaming up with Alcantara, Eala clinched a bronze medal after losing to Women’s Tennis Association No. 23 Zheng Qinwen of China in the semifinals of the women’s singles event.
With that, Eala emerged as the most successful Filipino athlete in the first half of the tournament following the forgettable performance of the likes of Kayla Sanchez of swimming, Kyomi Watanabe of judo, Nesthy Petecio and Irish Magno of boxing and Margielyn Didal of taekwondo.
“If overachieving is a thing, as they say, dream big,” said Eala, the 2022 US Open juniors champion.
She added that she likes her partnership with a grizzled international veteran in the 31-year-old Alcantara but the Taiwanese were the much better team.
“I think that we had the potential to do more, we definitely had, especially if you have a good team. But you know, you can’t control everything.”
“Tennis is a two-way sport. Today, they played well. And yesterday, my opponent also played well. But we gave everything we had. We had a good run and I’m super proud of that. Next time we’ll do better.”
In advancing to the semis, Eala and Alcantara waylaid Sunira Thapa and Pranav Khanal of Nepal, before stunning the top-seeded Anikita Raina and Yuki Bhambri of India in the Round-of-16 then beating Luksika Kumkhum and Parapol Maximus Jones of Thailand in the quarterfinals.
In the semifinals, Eala and Alcantara came out firing as they rallied in the 12th game of the first set, 40-40, and claimed the advantage before yielding a 7-5 decision to the Taiwanese.
In the second set, the fifth game proved to be the tipping point as the Philippines raced to a 40-15 start, but Taipei stormed back to claim advantage, and later the set lead, at 3-2.
With the momentum on their side, the Taiwanese netters looked poised to clinch the match after taking the next two games, 5-2, before Eala and Alcantara managed to stay alive by shutting out the Taiwanese in the eighth game.
Liang and Huang, however, restored order, racing to 40-0 in the ninth to secure the victory.
Still, it was mission accomplished for the Filipino netters, who have been struggling to gain glory in the international arena.
“I’m super happy. Look, I’m getting goosebumps,” Alcantara said.
“It’s only a bronze, but imagine if we got a silver or a gold medal. It will be so much better. I can say that we gave our best. We gave our all.”
With Eala and Alcantara’s feat, the Philippines increased its medals to six bronze medals after winning its first silver medal courtesy of sanda fighter Arnel Mandal on Thursday.
The Filipinos, however, remain hopeful of surpassing its target of four gold medals as stars like EJ Obiena of athletics, Hidilyn Diaz of weightlifting, Eumir Marcial of boxing and the fancied Gilas Pilipinas have yet to wrap up their respective competitions.