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(C) Alex Eala


ITF: Alex Eala scores gutsiest win of young career in W80 Poitiers

Alex Eala finally got back at past tormentor Jessika Ponchet of France as the Filipina teen tennis star scored a gritty 6-2, 5-7, 7-6 (8-6) victory on Tuesday (Manila time) in the opening round of the W80 Internationaux Feminins De La Vienne in Poitiers, France.

The two previously played each other twice in ITF events in Spain, with the 26-year-old French winning both matches in dominant fashion.

The 17-year-old Eala was eliminated in the second round of the W25 Open Generali Ciudad De Palma De Rio in late June, 2-6, 1-6, by Ponchet who finished runner-up in the tournament. The two would face each other anew three weeks later in the semifinals of the W60 Open Amutio. Eala fell a second time in straight sets to Ponchet, 4-6. 4-6. Ponchet eventually emerged as champion of the event.

Eala, the 2022 US Open girls’ singles champion, showed her French rival she had learned her lessons from their earlier encounters.

The world number 248th Eala sent a strong message right off the gates when she broke Ponchet, ranked 161 in the world, in the opening game of the first set. The Filipina would convert two more break points to race to a 5-0 advantage before the stunned Ponchet finally scored in the sixth game. Eala, however, would not be denied as she made sure to bank the opening set by holding serve in the eighth game.

The second set saw Eala again begin with a service break but Ponchet would storm right back and take the lead for the first time in the match in the ninth game. Though Eala managed to tie the count at 5-5, the power-serving Ponchet, who scored 16 aces in three sets compared to Eala’s two, would pocket the next two games to send the match to a decider,

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The third set would see both players holding serve until the 12th game. The 10th game, though, was when Eala revealed her nerves of steel. Down 4-5 on her serve, Eala staved off six match points to keep herself alive in the match.

Even when the deciding set went to a tiebreak, Eala found herself down early and still trailed 3-5 heading into the final stretch. Eala willed herself back into the match to take the next three points to regain the lead at 6-5. Ponchet managed to tie the count at 6-6, but that would prove to be her last gasp as Eala scored the next two points to end the match that lasted two hours and thirty minutes.

Eala had to go through two qualifying matches over the weekend to earn a spot in the main draw against Ponchet. The road ahead does not get easier for the Filipina prodigy. For her second round opponent, she will face the winner of the match between eight seed Vitalia Diatchenko of Russia, ranked 107 in the world, and Marine Partaud of France,

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