CARLSBAD, CA, USA - Christina McHale was the biggest name in action at the Mercury Insurance Open on Tuesday and she was tested but moved ahead, as the first round of the Premier-level tournament wrapped up.
Known for her tenacity and backboard-like strokes, the No.5-seeded McHale outsteadied Jarmila Gajdosova in a very tight two-setter, 76(5) 75. The hard-hitting Gajdosova had her chances - she served for the first set at 6-5 and held set point at 5-4 in the second set - but McHale didn't budge one bit.
"I was lucky to get out of that game," McHale said of that 5-4 game in the second set. "She was playing really well today and every game was close, but I just kept fighting. It was a tough one. I'm happy to have pulled that one out."
The other two seeds on the schedule had mixed results: No.7 seed Yanina Wickmayer missed out on a set point at 6-5 and, after losing the first set in a tie-break, retired against Taiwanese qualifier Chan Yung-Jan due to a back injury; meanwhile, No.8 seed Chanelle Scheepers also had a battle on her hands but managed to save nine of the 10 break points against her and close out American wildcard Coco Vandeweghe in straight sets, 62 76(4).
"She was hitting some really big shots today, but I made her work hard to win her points," Scheepers said. "Coco has a really good serve. You're always on the back foot against it. And she has some very big shots. If she cuts down on her errors, which she did last week in Stanford, she'll do really well."
Vandeweghe was coming off her first WTA final at Stanford last week. "I got as prepared as possible for this week," she said. "Some things didn't go as well as I would have hoped, especially in the first set, but I tried to keep fighting.
"I couldn't get those break points. It was inexcusable."
Vandeweghe's run to the Stanford final was the first time a lucky loser made a WTA final since Melinda Czink at Canberra in January 2005, over seven and a half years ago. And as luck would have it, Czink was among the winners in Carlsbad on Tuesday, twice rallying from a break down in the third set to beat Kazakh qualifier Sesil Karatantcheva in a very close finish, 62 46 75.
"I'm pleased I won and pleased I fought well, but there are a lot of things in my game I need to do better," Czink said after the match. "I need to take the ball earlier and move forward better, and finish the points off at the net. I also wasn't happy with my serve - I really want to get my first serve percentage up.
"I'm going to do those things better in my next match."
After being told of the "last lucky loser in a WTA final" stat, Czink's memories from the Australian capital in 2005 were more than crystal clear.
"I remember I lost to Ivanovic in the qualies and then lost to her again in the finals of the same tournament," the Hungarian reminisced. "When I played her in the qualies I didn't have a chance, she was playing too well. In the final I remember I had two set points and lost 76 64, so I definitely had a shot there. I kind of messed that one up. But in the last round of qualies it was all her.
"But last week the level of the tournament was completely different, so what Coco did was just a great effort. And I also lost to Coco last week!
"I always think being a qualifier or a lucky loser is an advantage in some way, because you're already in the tournament, you've played some matches, you have a feel for the courts. So in my opinion it's more of an advantage than a disadvantage, unless you get tired from all the matches, of course."
Other winners were Marina Erakovic, Vania King, Heather Watson and - on the subject - lucky loser Melanie Oudin, who rallied from 61 42 down and double match point in the tie-break to beat Sloane Stephens, 16 76(6) 60.