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A few years ago, Christina McHale seemed to have the tennis world at her feet. But no sooner had she been earmarked as American tennis' new young hope than she hit a major bump in the road, with her rapid rise up the rankings put on hold by a bout of glandular fever.
While the return journey up the rankings has not been quite so smooth, judging by a recent runner-up finish in Acapulco, McHale seems to be on the right track again. Her reward for a polished first round win over Lauren Davis was a rematch with Sharapova, who won, 6-2, 6-1, when they met at the same stage of the tournament 12 months ago.
The Turning Point
Fresh from her Stuttgart triumph, Sharapova came on court oozing with confidence. A break in the fourth game set her on her way and after just half an hour the first set was in the bag.
McHale showed admirable resolve at the start of the second, gradually establishing a foothold in the contest through a series of gritty holds. A break point in the fourth game offered a glimmer of hope, and although that chance was snuffed out, she was not to be denied, striking a few games later to take the set.
Things got even better for the World No.56 at the start of the decider, a couple of stinging forehands handing her the early break. As she has on so many occasions in the past, though, Sharapova saved her best tennis for when it mattered most reeling off five straight games to snatch a 6-1, 4-6, 6-4 victory from the jaws of defeat.