Home Editors' Picks Eala faces Japanese veteran Doi in first round of AO qualifiers

Eala faces Japanese veteran Doi in first round of AO qualifiers


Ex-champion Osaka withdraws from Australian Open

NEOPHYTE Alex Eala tangles with a seasoned counterpart in Misaki Doi of Japan for her highly-anticipated debut in the 2023 Australian Open (AO) women’s singles qualifiers.

Ranked No. 215 in the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) rankings, the Filipina tennis prodigy faces a tall order against WTA No. 172 Ms. Doi in Round 1 of the qualifying draw at the Melbourne Park.

Game time is at 7 a.m. (Manila time) onwards depending on the duration of the first scheduled matches at Court 8 with Ms. Eala eyeing to move on to the next round of the tough 128-player qualifying phase.

Ms. Eala, 17, needs three wins in the qualifiers to advance to the main draw, where the best women’s tennis players are waiting, led by world No. 1 Iga Swiatek of Poland.

The 31-year-old Ms. Doi is expected to be a tough nut to crack for Ms. Eala not only due to a higher WTA ranking but a way richer experience with almost 300 matches in her bag.

But while the mission is easier said than done, Ms. Eala assures her readiness after a warm-up action in the W60 Canberra last week before her first women’s Grand Slam tourney.

“I feel ready,” said Ms. Eala, a winner of doubles Grand Slams in the 2020 Australian Open and 2021 French Open, and the 2022 US Open singles.

“It will be a career first for me as I have never previously contested Grand Slam qualifying and, to be honest, I am over the moon to be fighting for a place in the main draw of a major tournament.”

Two-times champion Naomi Osaka has pulled out of the Australian Open, organizers of the year’s first Grand Slam which begins on Jan. 16 said on Sunday without elaborating on the reason, as a cloud hung over one of the sport’s brightest stars.

The Japanese former world number one’s name was on the entry list for the Australian Open, but Osaka was not scheduled to play in warm-up tournaments in Adelaide and Hobart, raising doubts about her participation in the hardcourt major.

“Naomi Osaka has withdrawn from the Australian Open. We will miss her at #AO2023,” the Australian Open tweeted. “Dayana Yastremska moves into the main draw.”

Ms. Osaka, the 2019 and 2021 Melbourne Park champion, has not played on the WTA Tour since the Pan Pacific Open in September, where she pulled out of her second-round match against Beatriz Haddad Maia in Tokyo due to illness.

She had crashed out in the first round of three tournaments before that event, including the US Open.

Her withdrawal marks a double blow for Australian Open organizers a day after American seven-times Grand Slam champion Venus Williams was ruled out due to injury.

Ms. Osaka, who has slipped to 42 in the world rankings, had taken a break to prioritize her mental health after skipping the 2021 French Open. She later said she had been battling depression and anxiety for years.

The four-times major champion is one of the highest-earning women athletes in the world, according to Forbes, with a growing business portfolio, but her latest pullout is likely to further fuel speculation about whether she will continue her playing career.

The Australian Open was already short of some of its star players following the retirements of Serena Williams and Roger Federer last year and the withdrawal of men’s world number one Carlos Alcaraz due to injury.

Simona Halep, the 2018 runner-up, is also absent after being provisionally suspended in October for failing a drug test. —  John Bryan Ulanday with reports from Reuters