NEW YORK, NY, USA - The concept of a "home tournament" is often used loosely. For New Jersey-born Christina McHale, the US Open has always been, quite literally, in her backyard.
"This is the event I look forward to out of all the events I play all year," she said after a 6-3, 6-2 win over Martina Di Giuseppe. "It’s maybe 20 minutes away from my house. My whole family comes to watch, and there was a pretty decent crowd cheering."
Seeded No.4 at the US Open's 2019 Qualifying tournament, McHale has made 10 main draw appearances at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center - twice reaching the third round - but the American first came to Flushing Meadows years before she turned pro.
"My sister and I started coming to the US Open when we were 10, and our favorite courts were the old Grandstand and Louis Armstrong, because you could get in with a grounds pass.
"We would just camp out there and watch all of the matches. We never wanted to leave; we’d stay until the last match."
McHale later earned one of the biggest wins of her career on Grandstand, shocking Marion Bartoli to reach the third round for the first time in 2011.
"Those were the matches where I felt the most crowd support; it felt like the crowd was erupting and the stadium was shaking. I was sad when they knocked it down. The new one is beautiful but the old one was sentimental to me."
Still, it's hard for the 27-year-old to not continue feeling at home at the US Open; one of her post-match interviewers was friend and former WTA pro Julia Elbaba, with whom she used to practice when the National Tennis Center was their shared training base. Writing for USOpen.org, Elbaba notes McHale's nails, painted a fresh coat of black.
"I got them done yesterday," McHale explained. "They were orange but with the dress I’d be wearing, I figured it would all be too much orange."
She next plays 2014 US Open semifinalist Peng Shuai, who herself outlasted another Italian veteran in Giulia Gatto Monticone - rallying from a set down to advance in three.
Two wins from a return to the US Open main draw - and three spots from rejoining the world's Top 100 for the first time since last September - McHale sees New York as a springboard for both her present and future.
"I’m still figuring out my favorite part of the city, but any time I can when I’m home, I'll go in for a nice dinner. There’s so many that you can always try a new one. I just love the city; I want to live there one day."