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McHale new hope for American tennis
America has found a new tennis player. Christina McHale produced a performance rich in promise and highly impressive in execution when she outplayed the 2007 Wimbledon finalist Marion Bartoli 7-6 (2), 6-2 in the second round of the US Open.
Bartoli, the No 8 seed from France who is one of the most driven and competitive players on the tour, found herself beaten into submission by an 18-year-old who competed with her every inch of the way.
"But there was nothing flashy about it," said former US Open champion Mats Wilander. "There was no fist pumping or anything. What impressed me was the way she worked it out and kept control of the rallies, forcing Bartoli back and refusing to be intimidated. It was a really mature performance and it showed that something is starting to happen at the USTA under Patrick McEnroe. He is starting to get results."
It was not so many years ago that McHale, whose family lives in New Jersey, was running around the Billie Jean King Tennis Centre with some school friends, chasing players for autographs. "I got Rafa's," she recalled. "That was exciting for us. And Agassi's."
But since February, McHale has been training regularly at the USTA headquarters at Flushing Meadows and hitting frequently with McEnroe. "It's so nice having him around to hit with and to give advice. It's also huge for me to be able to be at home with all the traveling I do."
McHale, who looked a little lost while trying to compete on European clay in the spring, has taken big strides forward in recent weeks and hit a high spot when she defeated world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki in Cincinnati. That win offered a signal that McHale was ready for a real breakthrough and although the third round of the US Open leaves a lot of room for further advancement, it was the manner of her victory that gave such cause for optimism.
Having battled through the first-set tiebreak, McHale pressed on quickly at the start of the second, breaking twice to lead 3-0. But it was never going to be that easy against Bartoli who has been taught by her highly intense father — a trained physician who gave up his profession to coach her — that every point has to be treated as a prize to be won.
Sure enough, Bartoli broke back for 3-1 but any chance that the teenager might start to panic evaporated as McHale chased down everything that was flung at her and, aided by a brilliant backhand pass up the line, promptly broke the French serve yet again. "She had an answer to everything," said Bartoli afterwards. "She was just too good."
McHale, who plays Maria Kirilenko next, is in Samamtha Stosur's quarter. The Australian has looked in fine fettle so far and Wednesday was too good for another American prospect, Coco Vandeweghe, beating the Californian 6-3, 6-4.
There was yet more good news for American tennis when Irina Falconi recovered sufficiently from the shock of being told that her match against No. 14 seed Diminika Cibulkova had been switched to Arthur Ashe Stadium to score one of the day’s best upsets with a 2-6, 6-3, 7-5 win.
"It was amazing," said Falconi who arrived from South America at the age of three and grew up in nearby Washington Heights. "I can't believe I am sitting here having just won a match on Ashe. It was easily the biggest stadium I had ever played on but I just said 'Let’s go, let's get on with it' and now I've won. Incredible."
Falconi is a true believer in American tennis and proved it by pulling and American flag from her bag and waving it to the crowd after her victory. “I have always carried it,” she said. “I believe there is a new generation of American women players coming and I just wanted to show how positive I am about it."
Wednesday’s results suggest that Falconi might be right.
Earlier, the youngest player in the women's draw, American Madison Keys, had given a very good account of herself against the 27th seed from the Czech Republic, Lucie Safarova, but couldn't maintain an impressive start and went down 3-6, 7-5, 6-4. The 16-year-old who trains at the Chris Evert Academy in Boca Raton, Fla., offered further evidence of her precocious talent by outhitting the experienced Czech in the early stages and seemed set for an upset when she broke to lead 4-3 in the third. But experience took hold in the end as Safarova outmaneuvered Keys in some long rallies, pushing the youngster back beyond her baseline. Forced to play shots off the back foot, she lost her serve again and could do nothing to prevent Safarova pushing down hard on the pedal to finish with a flurry of winners.
Andy Murray, resplendent in a bright red shirt, started slowly against the NCAA champion from India, Somdev Devvarman, but eventually got into his stride and moved smoothly into the second round with a 7-6, 6-2, 6-3 victory. Devvarman has moved up from 108 on the ATP ranking at the start of the year to 64 and is now starting to capitalize on a stellar college career. He was a hugely popular player at the University of Virginia where coach Brian Boland sang his praises as he racked up a 158-27 winning record during his time in Richmond.
"He's very solid," said Murray. "He doesn't give you many free points, especially early in the match. You have to kind of work hard before he starts making mistakes."
In an all-American battle Alex Bogomolov Jr. fought back from two sets down to beat a youngster who has suddenly emerged on the big stage, Steve Johnson, by 4-6, 4-6, 6-3, 7-6, 6-3.
"It was weird," said Bogomolov after a 3-hour-40-minute battle. "We had just become close after teaming up to play doubles together in Cincinnati and then, when the draw came out, we sort of kept our distance. Then he surprised me at the start, playing brilliant tennis, taking me out of my rhythm. I decided to press a bit more at the start of the third and just stayed positive."
He will have plenty of incentive to remain so because Bogomolov will now play a lucky loser, Rogerio Dutra Da Silva, a Brazilian who got into the draw when No. 6 seed Robin Soderling pulled out ill. Da Silva then received yet more luck when Ireland's Louk Sorensen had to retire hurt at 6-0, 3-6, 6-4, 1-0 down.
Venus Williams was another player forced out of the draw through illness. The former champion issued a statement to say that she had become afflicted by the Sjogren Syndrome, which reduces the flow of saliva and saps energy. Controversially unseeded, Venus had been slated to play the talented German Sabine Lisicki who received a walkover into the third round.
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