Monday, July 25, 2011

U.S. teens McHale, Vandeweghe serve notice

   STANFORD -- Christina McHale and Coco Vandeweghe could have been playing low-level tournaments in the United States this summer and preparing for their sophomore year of college.
   Instead, the 19-year-old Americans are traveling around the world as professionals on the elite WTA Tour. Both have cracked the top 100 and beaten Russian stars for the biggest victories of their careers.
   "It's weird having a lot of friends in college while I'm doing this," McHale admittted Monday.
   McHale and Vandeweghe, a former Capital, had mixed results in the first round of the Bank of the West Classic. McHale crushed error-prone Mirjana Lucic of Croatia 6-1, 6-0, and Vandeweghe lost to Rebecca Marino of Canada 6-4, 6-4.
   The 5-foot-7 McHale, from Englewood Cliffs, N.J., is ranked No. 65 (third in the United States). She reached the third round at Indian Wells in March, stunning two-time Grand Slam singles champion Svetlana Kuznetsova along the way.
   The 6-1 Vandeweghe, from Rancho Santa Fe in the San Diego area, is No. 99 (fifth in the U.S.). At her hometown tournament last August, she won three qualifying matches and knocked off second-ranked Vera Zvonareva, the 2010 Wimbledon runner-up, en route to the quarterfinals.
   Another 19-year-old American, 100th-ranked Melanie Oudin, is playing in the inaugural Citi Open in College Park, Md., this week.
  McHale and Vandeweghe have earned $149,476 and $106,343, respectively, in prize money this year, although travel expenses have eaten up a significant percentage of that.
   McHale, the youngest player in the top 100, turned pro last year after much deliberation. She doesn't know where she would have gone to college but has been impressed by Stanford.
   "After being here, I definitely would have considered it," said McHale, who also reached the second round of the Bank of the West Classic last year.
   McHale said she's not surprised by her rapid rise in the rankings.
   "It's what I've been working hard for. I'm happy to see it happening," she said.
   McHale also doesn't mind being considered the next hope for the United States, whose top-ranked player is Bethanie Mattek-Sands at No. 30.
   "It's fine," McHale said. "All I can do is try my best and keep working hard."
   Venus and Serena Williams have dropped to No. 35 and No. 169, respectively, after long layoffs caused by injuries and health problems. They returned to the circuit last month.
   Serena Williams is scheduled to meet Anastasia Rodionova, another former Capital, on Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the first round of the Bank of the West Classic. Venus, a two-time champion and five-time runner-up in the tournament, is not entered this year.
   Vandeweghe, the 2008 U.S. Open junior champion, urged patience for fans awaiting the next American stars.
   "It's not easy to get through the rankings," said Vandeweghe, the niece of former NBA star Kiki Vandeweghe. "The prize money in the U.S. Challengers is not as high as in Europe. It takes a little time.
   "I turned pro at 16 and made the top 100 at 18. The juniors to the pros is a big change. You have to find yourself on the pro tour."
   Vandeweghe and McHale are making progress.

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