Tennis: Alex Eala soars into main draw of Japan Women’s Open

For the second time in her career, Alex Eala of the Philippines qualified for a WTA main draw spot at the Japan Women’s Open in Osaka.

The WTA World No. 195 and qualifying fifth seed prevailed over 281st-ranked Fernanda Contreras of Mexico, 6-3, 6-4, and World No. 297 Sohyun Park of South Korea, 4-6, 6-1, 7-5.

In January, Eala achieved her maiden qualification into a WTA main draw at the Thailand Open in Hua Hin, where she lost to 2022 Wimbledon semifinalist Tatjana Maria in the opening round.

Like the Thailand Open, the Japan Women’s Open or Kinoshita Group Japan Open Tennis Championships is a WTA 250 tournament.

At Court 8 of the ITC Utsubo Tennis Center on Saturday, the 18-year-old Filipino moved away from 3-3 by holding serve at deuce and securing a break after Contreras caught up to 40-40.

Eala, who competed at this week’s ITF W100 Tokyo with finishes in the doubles semifinals and singles second round as a qualifier, served out the first set, 6-3.

The four-time ITF women’s singles winner maintained her momentum in the second set by breaking twice for 1-0 and 4-3, then held to love to advance to 5-3.

Contreras, 25, fought off deuce in the following game to trail at 4-5, and Eala responded with a hold to reach the second round of qualifiers, 6-4.

When Eala returned to Court 8 on Sunday, she figured in a rematch two months after Park scored an opening-round upset at the W25 Corroios-Seixal in Portugal.

At 2-2 in the first set, the players exchanged breaks twice until Park held serve for a 5-4 edge.

The 21-year-old South Korean, who advanced in the qualifiers after Chinese No. 8 seed Xiaodi You retired (6-3, 5-1, ret.), broke at deuce to be ahead at 6-4.

Eala then raced to a 3-0 lead, and breezed through the second set with a solid hold at 40-30 to widen the gap at 5-1.

She earned three set points in the seventh game and broke on her second opportunity to force a deciding set, 6-1.

The Filipino teen broke serve to be at 3-1 and 4-2, and the South Korean fought back to equalize at 5-5.

After saving two break points to inch ahead at 6-5, Eala made her ninth break point conversion in the match out of 18 chances while Park was serving to remain in the duel for the second time.

Eala pulled off the victory on her lone match point, 7-5, and barged into the main draw to face home bet and fellow qualifier Himeno Sakatsume in the first round.

The 22-year-old Japanese with five ITF women’s singles crowns is 199th in the WTA Rankings.

The Japan Women’s Open, which is organized by the Japan Tennis Association, is headlined by the top five seeds Lin Zhu of China, Maria of Germany, Chinese Xinyu Wang, Linda Fruhvirtova of the Czech Republic, and Nadia Podoroska of Argentina.

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