After a difficult 2013 when injuries and the recovery from mononucleosis held her back, Christina McHale is finally bouncing back in this 2014, looking as determined as never before.
A small injury slowed her preparation for Wimbledon, as in the last training session before the ITF event of Nottingham, she slipped during sprints, falling heavily on her hand, which did not let her play for a couple of days.
The healing took a few days, but she managed to compete the following weeks, coming to Wimbledon with a bunch of matches played on green.
“It is definitely going in the right direction,” she said: “I think it was the right decision to pull out of Nottingham, because I was in quite a lot a pain, but I think it’s slowly getting better again.”
Having proved to be an all-round player with several good performances in each slam and on every surface, the girl from New Jersey has her worst wins-losses ratio on grass.
“I mean, I think part of the reason is ‘cause there are not many tournaments on grass,” she explained: “So I feel like by the time I get really used to it, it’s over.
“But, well two years ago, I did make a third round in Wimbledon, so I do feel I have had good matches on the grass, probably just not enough matches.”
Since that 2012 when she reached the third round in three consecutive slams, she had been struggling with a serious form of mono, that seemed to arrest her improvements.
“It was tough…it’s really like something some people don’t really realize, that once you actually get over it, then the time you need to get back in full strength takes a long time,” she said with a slightly trembling voice, a sign of how hard it has been for her.
“So, I think I’m so happy to be over that and I think also I’m back now working with my old coaches again it is making many differences as well.”
And the difference is that this year she came very close to capturing her very first WTA title, as she reached her first final in Acapulco, losing in three sets to Australian Open runner-up, Dominika Cibulkova.
“ I think I’m getting closer, that was definitely a very close match, it was a really good week for me,” she acknowledged.
“And then, you know, like in Strasbourg, I made the semis and almost made the final as I had a match point. I’m putting myself in more opportunities and I think the more I’ll do that, it’ll just naturally come on its own.”
Not only the first title is coming closer, but her old habit of upsetting big names –she has wins over Victoria Azarenka, Caroline Wozniacki and Svetlana Kuznetsova- is about to come back too, as testified by her match against Maria Sharapova in Madrid, when she was a break up in the decisive set.
“I definitely took a lot away from that match even though I lost,” she admitted: “It was disappointing. But it reassured myself that I can compete against the top girls, and it gave me confidence and in my next matches in Rome I carried that over.
“So I took a lot from that and hopefully, yeah, I can just keep building and improving my game and hopefully get there, one day.”
After her big battles this year and the surprising results of many up and coming youngsters at Roland Garros, more and more players believe that beating the top names is not impossible after all.
“I think, when you see someone, you know, like the top seeds pulling out against players that are around my age or that I’ve played against. So you think, if they can do it, then I can do it too. So it’s really inspirational to see them doing such things,” she said.
Moreover, the new wave of American youngsters doing well is a great support.
“I definitely think so, there is a lot of us, who are trying to push through right now,” she admitted: “A lot of the Americans girls we practice together in Boca, in Florida…so it’s really a competition, we push each other every day, so I think that has really helped us and, yeah, I think especially Sloane, she is really doing well a lot, Madison, Lauren, me… so I think it’s like kinda pushing each other.”
But it is not just a matter of training, there is also a good relationship that grew stronger with the years.
“I think that American girls in general get along really well,” she said: “I think we, you know…obviously if we play each other it’s a different story, we are rivals. But I think that off the court we get along pretty well, I mean, we see each other all the time, so it’s nice to have, you know, friendships with them.”
Having achieved the same success in all the slams and so in all surfaces, one would expect her to find it hard to pick a favourite one, but she has no doubts about it:
“It’s hardcourt. I just feel the most comfortable on it cause I grew up playing on hardcourt. But I mean, yeah, I’d say clay it’s my second and then maybe grass is my third for right now, but it could change.”
Also tournament wise, the choice was easy:
“The Us Open! Yeah, I don’t have to think about it. I actually live really close to that, like 20 minutes away. So I used to practice there all the time, so for me it’s like my home tournament. I really love it.”
Around the world is very common for players whose native language is not English to communicate with coaches in that language, but not so for the 22 year old, who speaks a beautiful Spanish during the changeovers.
“My mum is Cuban,” she explained: “My physio is Argentinean and my coach is also Argentinean, so yeah, I speak Spanish a lot to them and to my mum.”
She also told me that speaking Spanish, even in the world of tennis, can come in hand very often:
“Yeah, I mean, it was useful in Madrid, like, I just communicate in Acapulco and Mexico, like I just communicate with everyone and all the people there or also many players speak Spanish, so that’s really helpful and all in that aspect.”
Despite the young age, she has had a great deal of experiences, but there is one that so far is her most memorable.
“I would say I go with the Olympics. That was really really cool, like nothing has compared to that, like the opening ceremony and just being with all the other athletes, it was unreal, yeah.”
So after a look back, it is time to look ahead and what lies in her future plans.
“I mean, I definitely would… I want to try and win a WTA tournament, that would be a good goal for me.” She admitted: “But I mean, if I just keep on working on the same way I’ve been working, just really focus on what I need to improve and get more power in my game, things like that.
“I feel like naturally the results will start coming. So, yeah, that would be like my tournament-wise goal, but on a more day to day basis it is just doing the right things, my fitness, my tennis every day.”