McHale's rise continues in Indian Wells
She was almost crying with joy at the end; trying to believe that she had really beaten the reigning Wimbledon champion, Petra Kvitova in front of a large and supportive crowd on the Stadium Court at the BNP Paribas Open.
But Christina McHale, the 19-year-old from Englewood Cliffs, N.J., had done just that, battling back from a difficult opening set that Kvitova had dominated with her big left-handed serve, to win 2-6, 6-2, 6-3.
There is no doubt that McHale deserved this success but, unfortunately, a lot of results in the last couple of days have been hard to fathom, primarily because there is a stomach virus in the air that has seen many players pull out or play listless tennis. (The officiating fraternity have been hit as well).
The local virus does not seem to have been Kvitova's problem. She was on antibiotics when she arrived and has suffered from asthma in the past. But the Czech refused to use that as an excuse despite the fact that she seemed to be short of breath in the third set and was using an inhaler.
"It was just about energy and what I lost (as a result of antibiotics)" she said. "It was about the legs and the moving."
Bad luck for Kvitova, but sport is all about being fit enough to compete and win and McHale rightly took full advantage of her opponent's distress. "I wasn't able to get a read on her serve in the first set at all," said McHale, "but then her serve dropped off in the next two sets and I just kind of hung in there. It feels great to have a win like this today."
Two double faults which helped McHale to a 5-3 lead in the third ended any hopes Kvitova had of capitalizing on the break back she had secured in the previous game and it was left to the young American to serve out with the whole stadium urging her on.
McHale had needed a wild card to get into the draw last year, which she justified by beating former US Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, but her steady improvement over the past 12 months has lifted her to a ranking of 35 and it will go higher now that she has reached the fourth round.
Kuznetsova didn't fare much better this year, either. She ran into world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka and went down 6-1, 6-2 as the Belarusian rediscovered her form with a vengeance. Azarenka had been within two points of defeat against the talented German newcomer Mona Barthel in the previous round but her game simply clicked back into gear and Kuznetsova was outhit and outplayed.
Juan Martin del Potro, whom that wise old coach Pancho Segura thinks has a good shot at the title, played like a man in form as he held off a spirited first set challenge from the Delray Beach finalist Marinko Matosevic to beat the Australian 7-5, 6-2. The tall Argentine will play Spain's Fernando Verdasco next.
Roger Federer opened up the evening session on a pleasantly cool desert night with a 6-4, 6-1 victory over American wild card Denis Kudla, who got a close up view of just what is required to compete at the top of this sport. It might not be quite as easy for Federer next time out as he will be facing the young Canadian Milos Raonic who possesses one of the biggest serves on the tour. Raonic beat Argentine Carlos Berlocq in straight sets and will now relish the opportunity to test his rapidly developing game against the legendary Swiss.
Current world No. 1 Novak Djokovic will be back in action on Stadium Court Monday when he plays the big-serving South African Kevin Anderson, who won Delray Beach last week, in a match that will follow the 11 a.m. start for reigning US Open champion Sam Stosur, who plays the experienced Nadia Petrova.