Christina McHale chooses not to think about being the next American tennis champion. The 19-year-old also tries not to set specific ranking or tournament goals for herself.
But whatever McHale is doing, it seems to be working.
In just her first full year as a professional on the WTA Tour, McHale has a resume most young tennis players dream about. She upset world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki in Cincinnati, reached the third round of the 2011 U.S. Open and brought home a bronze medal while representing Team USA at the Pan American Games.
“I’ve gotten a lot more experience this year, playing a lot more matches at the bigger level consistently,” said McHale about her successful season. “I improved my fitness too. I think the big part of it was a lot more experience playing with the top players and playing the full year schedule.”
McHale finished the 2011 season as the second ranked American at No. 43, behind only Serena Williams’ No. 12 ranking. McHale, with her powerful strokes and movement she labels as her “biggest weapon,” leads the contingent of young Americans talents.
Despite the growing accolades, McHale is not letting the success get to her head.
“I really try not to think about [being the next top American player] or put pressure on myself,” she said. “What I’ve been doing this past year, I haven’t been thinking about things like that. I’ve just been focusing on my game and practicing and things like that. I just want to keep that same mentality.”
McHale grew up in Teaneck, NJ, only a short drive away from the USTA National Training Center in Flushing Meadows, NY – home of the U.S. Open. But her tennis journey began in Hong Kong, where her father, John, was stationed for work. McHale first picked up a racquet at four-years-old, following in the footsteps of her older sister Lauren, who is currently a junior on the University of North Carolina tennis team.
Upon leaving Hong Kong at the age of eight and moving to Englewood Cliffs, NJ, where she resides now, McHale and Lauren shot up the junior ranks. The sisters, who idolized Serena and Venus Williams, both won national titles and set a record for being the first siblings since 1996 (Bob and Mike Bryan) to be in the top 10 year-end rankings in the same age division in 2007.
Three years later, McHale was faced with the decision to turn pro or play in college like her sister. Even with the mounting success and trophies, the choice was not easy.
“I only turned pro last year when I graduated high school [in 2010],” she said. “I was definitely weighing both options. Eventually I knew this is what I wanted to do, and I wanted to take advantage of a time like now. It was definitely a big decision for me.”
The decision has paid dividends, and McHale, with her quiet confidence, is poised for a strong 2012 season. McHale took 10 days off to relax after the Pan American Games but is already in her third week of full training, proving that there is no rest for the weary.
When asked if she was ready to take it to the next level and attention that comes with it, the easy-going McHale responded with wisdom beyond her years.
“I think if I continue to do what I’ve been doing this past year and not get too anxious from results, and if I just let it happen when it’s ready to happen, then I think I’ll be ready.”
(Photos via Getty Images)