The Kennedy Funding Invitational tennis tournament at Dellwood Country Club concluded Sunday, with the highly anticipated Women's final between up and coming pro Christina McHale and tennis star Victoria Azarenka.
Fresh off her victory yesterday in the semifinals over tennis sensation Melanie Oudin, McHale defeated Azarenka in straight sets, 6-4, 7-5, to become the 2010 Kennedy Funding Invitational Champion. She admitted that her win over Oudin was helpful mentally for her match against Azarenka.
"It just gave me more confidence," said McHale, "so I was able to make those shots."
For McHale, ranked 158th in the world, the wins over 40th ranked Oudin and 18th ranked Azarenka were especially important and satisfying.
"It's really exciting because I've been putting in a lot of work on the practice courts," said McHale. "It was nice to see some results and beat really good players."
And what does it do for McHale to come up with wins like this so early in her career? Though this is a relatively small charity event, for McHale, who turned pro within the month, defeating top talent like Oudin and Azarenka is not only a great accomplishment, but also a huge confidence booster. "It just gives me good confidence," she said.
Coming into the match, McHale knew she had to stay aggressive from the beginning of the two set match through to its end. She continually placed the ball well with numerous shots at the elbow to make Azarenka work for each point.
"I played her earlier in the year, so I knew if she gets the first strike on the ball, she can just put it wherever she wants," said McHale. "So I knew I would have to take care of my serve to put pressure on her serve."
As in her match against Oudin, McHale knew she had to stay aggressive to keep Azarenka on the run, since, if she let her get comfortable, McHale would have a hard time returning her shots. Of her strategy, McHale said, "I just tried to get her on the move first and tried to get her to use her forehand."
The strategy seemed to be working for McHale, who took game one with the help of some unforced errors from Azarenka, who seemed to be struggling from the onset as she wheezed and winced on many of her shots. McHale consolidated in the second, winning it with an ace to go up 2-0. McHale then went up 5-2 when she broke Azarenka, who double faulted to hand her the seventh game.
Azarenka broke back in the eighth and consolidated in the ninth to bring the set to 5-4. McHale was able to hold, however, in five short rallies to win the game and the set 6-4.
Azarenka then went up 5-3 in the second set and it looked like she was going to take it when she was up 30-0 in the ninth. McHale would not give up though, as she grinded out winners from the baseline in the next four rallies to put the set at 5-4. Azarenka then took a medical timeout as she appeared to be hurting after this pivotal win, while McHale seemed her most determined yet.
Fortunately, Azaranka seemed to be okay as she shook off whatever was bothering her to finish the match. With powerful serves and well-placed return winners, McHale took the next three games to win the set 7-5 and the match. The two athletes congratulated each other and were greeted by Mitch Klein on the sideline, where each got to say a few words to the crowd.
"Hello everybody, I'm so glad to be here for my second time," said Azarenka. "It's amazing how much passion people bring to the court to help this great cause, so thank you so much."
McHale echoed Azarenka's sentiments, saying 'I'm honored to be here helping out the cause." Azarenka was happy for McHale and the cause after the game. "This is something you do for a good cause," she said. "I like to bring back to the community. It's not about winning or losing, but about coming out and supporting a great cause."
The event was certainly a huge success this year, as Klein proudly announced that they were going to be able to donate $475,000 to the breast care centers at Nyack and Englewood hospitals. One can only hope that its success will continue to build in years to come.
As the 2010 Kennedy Funding Invitational Women's Champion, McHale received her trophy and $40,000 check amidst cheers from her friends, family, and the crowd. She returns now to the busy schedule of the ATP World Tour, where she looks to qualify for such major upcoming events as the U.S. Open in August.
The brief and joyous ceremony was followed by a bar-b-que to conclude the 2010 Kennedy Funding Invitationals.