Because tennis is a sport dominated by a handful of players, it takes a real break-out performance on the game's biggest stages to become a household name. A couple of summers ago in Flushing Meadows, New York, it was American teenager Melanie Oudin who captured the nation amidst her run to the quarterfinals. At the 2011 US Open, the story was young American Madison Keys, who fared pretty well. Although no one is talking about her, American teen Christina McHale should be the story Down Under.
The 19 year old from New Jersey had a tremendous summer and has the type of game that could eventually make her a top-15 player. Now ranked No. 42, McHale did not need to qualify for the Australian Open but received a tough draw with her first round match against seeded player Lucie Safarova. Undaunted by the stage and her opponent, McHale played a great match, and dropped only 6 games. Throughout the 6-2 6-4 victory, it looked as if McHale was the seeded player and Safarova was the teen. Although McHale's game is not built on tremendous power, she can mix it up beautifully from the baseline and has the serve to stay with some of the top women in the game. She has shown this with a pretty convincing victory over World No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki last summer.
As for this Australian Open, McHale will play her second round match on Wednesday in Melbourne against Marina Erakovic of New Zealand. The young American will be favored to win this match, but cannot afford to take any opponent for granted. Any win at a Major is a large step in the right direction for a teenager. If McHale can pass her next test, she will presumably face Jelena Jankovic in the third round. One of the players who lost to Oudin en route to her trip to the quarterfinals in New York, Jankovic sometimes has trouble beating lower-seeded women. If this third-round match does come to fruition, I expect it to go the distance, and McHale will have a great chance to win.
Looking ahead, the future is tremendously bright for Christina McHale. If she continues to bolster her ranking by playing in some smaller tournaments, there is a chance she could be seeded by the time the French Open rolls around, giving her a much easier draw. Nevertheless, she has taken advanatge of her first opportunity Down Under by defeating a seeded woman. Even with this victory, McHale has her eyes set on a much larger prize, which might take a while to reach. But, at age 19, she is making leaps and bounds towards this ultimate goal.