| By Brian Coleman

Christina McHale played in her eighth U.S. Open main draw during the 2016 edition of the tournament, a pretty remarkable number for someone who is just 24-years-old.

“This is my favorite tournament,” said McHale. “It’s my favorite time of the year. I get to stay home. Obviously, I would like to be doing better, but I love playing in Flushing Meadows.”

McHale delivered a masterful performance in a 6-2, 6-2 first round win over Mona Barthel, but would fall to 2015 U.S. Open finalist Roberta Vinci in the second round.

McHale hails from Englewood Cliffs, N.J., less than an hour drive from the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Her start in tennis did not come from New Jersey, however, but from 5,000 miles away in Hong Kong, where she lived with her parents and sister Lauren for five years during her childhood.

“My sister and I went to an international school and had the chance to meet and become friends with so many people from all over the world. We also had the chance to travel to many other countries in Asia during this time, so it was great to experience a lot of different cultures at such a young age,” McHale recalls. “I first started playing tennis in Hong Kong, so it’s a special place for me. In the apartment complex that we lived in, they had tennis courts with a kids’ program after school. My mom signed my sister and I up and that’s how everything started.”

After five years in Hong Kong, around 2000, McHale and her family moved to the New Jersey suburb of Englewood Cliffs and she continued her tennis development. McHale now has the chance to return to Hong Kong each year, as professional tennis returned there back in 2014 with the Hong Kong Tennis Open.

“It was very cool getting the chance to go back to Hong Kong two years ago when they brought back the Hong Kong Tennis Open,” McHale said. “I hadn’t been there since we moved back to the states in 2000, so it was emotional for me to go back and visit where we used to live, go to school, play my tennis, etc. I also enjoy going back each year to the tournaments in China, because I can practice my Mandarin!”

Soon after returning to the United States, McHale headed south to the USTA Development Training Complex in Boca Raton, where she would cultivate her game in the USTA program, officially turning pro in 2010.

“I think it really depends on the player,” McHale said when asked whether she would advise a young player to stay local or go to a prominent academy to continue training. “I feel like different environments work for different players. Some like to be around other top players because it pushes them, but others enjoy staying home. So I think it’s really up to the player.”

Since then, McHale has been a fixture on the WTA Tour and has reached a career high singles ranking of 24th in the world. Following her run at the 2016 U.S. Open, McHale captured the first WTA singles title of her career, winning five straight three-set matches on her way to the Japan Women’s Open Championship.

“It’s so exciting. I really wasn’t expecting this. All of my matches were super long and super tough, but I’m so excited it ended with a title,” McHale said after winning the title. “I don’t even want to put my trophy down—I just want to hold it all the time. I’ve been coming to this tournament for a few years now and I really love it here.”

The title could catapult McHale, who says her goals for the 2017 season are to try and go deeper in the Grand Slams and keep improving each day. 

She recently played Mylan World TeamTennis for the first time in her career as a part of the inaugural season of the New York Empire at Forest Hills Stadium, and said that the fast-paced style and loud atmosphere of the World TeamTennis format will help her game.

“It definitely helps you adapt and adjust to different situations,” McHale said. “Now when you play a real match you feel like you have so much time, you’re used to any crowd noise and the game doesn’t feel as fast.”

So as McHale finishes her season during the end of the year Asian swing, she is ready to take the next step in her career, and will continue training down at the Boca West Country Club, where she is the Club’s touring pro and is often there for special events and exhibitions.

“What makes Boca West really stand out is that they have state of the art facilities and the staff is extremely attentive and knowledgeable,” said McHale. “John Joyce runs an outstanding tennis program that really caters to the needs of each one of its members. The clay courts are kept in beautiful condition, and they just recently built a hard court which is great to have the option to practice on a different surface. Both the weather and location of Boca West makes it a perfect destination spot.”

Boca West’s Director of Tennis John Joyce explains, “Christina is a wonderful representative of Boca West Country Club and it’s a pleasure working with her throughout the year. Our members love to follow her tournaments and look forward to when she returns to the Club. Whether it’s doing exhibitions or functions, she’s always available and goes above and beyond for us.”

Being from the local area here, McHale also had some advice for young players growing up in the USTA Eastern Section.

“The best advice I could give is that at an early age—don’t be too worried about your wins and losses,” McHale said. “Don’t get so concerned about the rankings and things like that. Just focus on improving your game and don’t be so results-oriented.”

Brian Coleman

 Brian Coleman is the Senior Editor for New York Tennis Magazine. He may be reached at brianc@usptennis.com