Alexandra Eala enjoys day in limelight at Abu Dhabi Open while Naomi Osaka is swept aside

Filipino teenager beaten 7-6, 6-1 by Magda Linette as Japanese former world No 1 loses 7-5, 6-0 to Danielle Collins

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The loudest and largest support on Day 2 of the Mubadala Abu Dhabi Open was not reserved for Naomi Osaka, the four-time Grand Slam champion and one of the biggest stars in world sport.

Instead, it was the world No 187 – competing in just her ninth WTA Tour tournament – who was the star attraction for many fans on Tuesday. She was cheered on by hordes of supporters, was stopped for selfies and autographs wherever she went, and even met with, and received flowers from, her nation’s Ambassador.

That’s what comes with being the top-ranked tennis player and rising star from the Philippines while competing in a country with a large, thriving Filipino community.

Only 18 and still in the infancy of her professional career, Alexandra Eala is not accustomed to this sort of treatment and attention, but she’s certainly been soaking it all in this week.

“It’s definitely quite new for me but in the end, I have to enjoy it,” she told The National. “I don’t know for how long I will get this attention! But I definitely view it as a strength. People have come out to support me and want me to win – maybe as much as I want to win myself.

“During the match, I try not to think about it, just focus on every point, but it’s nice to see that people are backing me.”

Eala received a wild card to compete in Abu Dhabi and was drawn against a tough first-round opponent; Magda Linette was ranked No 22 as recently as last month, is a two-time winner on the WTA Tour, and reached the Australian Open semi-finals last year.

Still, Eala gave a good account of herself, going toe-to-toe with her vastly more experienced opponent in a close first set, before Linette pulled away in the second to win 7-6, 6-1.

“I did everything I could and left everything I had on the court,” Eala said. “It’s never easy playing anyone here at the tournament, it has a really high level here so congrats to her. This was a great match to add to my portfolio and to gain experience. Overall, I’m happy and I think this loss can be a win for me in the long term.”

Eala reserved special thanks for the fans who turned out on Tuesday to support her during her match and throughout her few days in Abu Dhabi, adding: “There is a huge Filipino community here and they’ve embraced me very well. I’m really thankful for them. I know a lot of them took time off work and made the time to support me, so I’m super happy.”

Along with Eala, Osaka was also eliminated in the first round on Tuesday, the former world No 1 going down 7-5, 6-0 to American Danielle Collins.

Osaka, in the early stages of a comeback following 15 months away, firstly to focus on her mental health and then to have a baby, has been unlucky with her draws so far this season.

The Japanese player has faced a succession of top players early in the three tournaments she’s played, and contested a close first set with former world No 7 Collins before ultimately fading.

Wednesday will host the start of the second round and will begin with Russian seventh seed Daria Kasatkina against American teenager Ashlyn Krueger.

That will be followed by Brazilian sixth seed Beatriz Haddad Maia against Linette, before Greek third seed Maria Sakkari gets her tournament under way against Romania’s Sorana Cirstea.

Last and certainly not least, the day will conclude with Tunisian second seed Ons Jabeur up against Britain’s former US Open champion Emma Raducanu.

Updated: February 06, 2024, 4:37 PM