INDIAN WELLS, CA, USA - There's a wave of young Americans working its way up the WTA rankings, with Christina McHale at the front of it - and on Sunday the 19-year-old from New Jersey pulled off the biggest upset so far at the BNP Paribas Open, outlasting World No.3 Petra Kvitova in three sets, 26 62 63.
Having beaten Top 10 players before, with victories over Victoria Azarenka, Caroline Wozniacki and Marion Bartoli, the No.32-seeded McHale never backed down after losing a routine first set to Kvitova, winning four straight games from 2-all in the second set then racing out to a 4-1 lead in the third set; Kvitova rallied, closing in from 1-4 to 3-4 and even holding a point for 4-4, but McHale won seven straight points to put the No.3-seeded Czech away.
"I just kind of hung in there early in the second set, and then she played one service game where she gave me a couple of loose errors, and then I just kind of kept hanging in there," McHale said. "It took me a while to get used to her big shots, but I definitely got a lot more comfortable as the match went on.
"It was definitely one of my biggest wins."
One thing stringing all of McHale's Top 10 wins together? They have all come on US soil. "Wherever and anywhere I play in the States, the crowd is always great," she said. "Especially here, they get so into it. I mean, it's amazing."
Kvitova, who had missed the Middle Eastern swing due to injury and illness, was gracious in defeat. "She played very solid and didn't make any mistakes, so it was tough," the Czech commented. "The first set was fine today. Next time I play against her I will have to play the game I played the first set - a better serve, not many double faults, play aggressive and go for the net."
Props came via Twitter from prominent names in US tennis, like Patrick McEnroe ("HUGE") and Brad Gilbert ("I am very impressed how much better McHale has got in the past 12 months, serve and fearhand are much improved").
McHale wasn't the only American reaching the fourth round, with 22-year-old wildcard Jamie Hampton beating Australia's Jarmila Gajdosova in the last match of the day, 62 67(1) 62. Hampton originally led 62 51 when Gajdosova's power game caught fire, bringing her eight of the next 10 games to take her to 2-1 in the third set - but Hampton won five games from there to seal the deal.
Other players advancing to the fourth round later in the day were No.5 seed Agnieszka Radwanska, who recovered from a double break, 3-0 deficit in the first set and ended up beating No.27 seed Flavia Pennetta in straight sets, 64 62, and Klara Zakopalova, who received a walkover from Vera Zvonareva when the No.9 seed and former Indian Wells champion withdrew due to illness.
"I'm really sorry to withdraw but unfortunately I'm not feeling well enough to compete today," Zvonareva said. "Hopefully I can recover from the illness and play in Miami but today I just don't feel that I can go out there and perform well enough. Indian Wells is one the best tournaments on the WTA, I have great memories here and have won here in the past, so it's a special place for me and I'm sorry I cannot play. I hope to come back here healthy next year."