The second-year Aviators player will make her home debut in 2020
As the tennis world continues to wait along with everyone else for a return to normalcy, San Diego Aviators’ Christina McHale is enjoying quality family time and doing some team-building of sorts at the same time. McHale is staying home with her sister Lauren and Lauren’s husband, fellow Aviators player and 2016 WTT Male MVP, Ryan Harrison, at the Harrisons’ home in Atlanta, Georgia. Keeping fit through spins on a Peloton and workouts sent by her trainer at home in New Jersey (“I’ve even been having my sister do it with me. She’s going to be in the best shape of her life after this,” McHale jokes), the trio are finding ways to stay active away from the tennis court. Professional athlete-level workouts aside, from baking to puzzling to binge-watching tv, the McHale-Harrison crew is a lot like us right now.
It’s that strong family bond that’s been the thread connecting McHale’s tennis and personal life, long before the coronavirus pandemic. She may cite Venus and Serena Williams as her tennis idols, but she credits her family as the most impactful in driving her to where she is in her pro career. “Obviously, they’ve been there since the beginning. My sister played college tennis, so growing up, I always had her to practice with, so that really helped me develop quicker, I think. The support from my family and my sister — if I didn’t have that, I don’t think I would still be playing or have gotten as far as I have,” says McHale.
The 27-year-old New Jersey native reached a career-high ranking of World No. 24 in 2012, the same year she was tapped to represent the United States in the London Olympics. “I never expected to make it to that point,” she remembers. “It was never a dream of mine — I just didn’t even think it was possible — so to actually make it and then walk in the opening ceremony and be in the village and just go through that whole experience, it was pretty surreal. I haven’t gotten a chance to go back, but that’s just made me appreciate it even more that I did get a chance to go.” McHale is also a five-time member of the U.S. Fed Cup team.
Though this will be the second year in Aviators red for McHale, fans didn’t get to see her play in person at Omni La Costa in 2019 when all her matches were played on the road, but that didn’t take away from her enjoyment of playing the WTT format. “It’s just so different being on a team, but I love that aspect of it,” she says. “And then having Ryan, my brother-in-law, on the team last year, playing with him was a lot of fun. When I’ve played Fed Cup or the Olympics, playing for the U.S., you just feel more responsibility and you want to do well for the team, and that translates to World TeamTennis as well — you’re playing for more than yourself, so sometimes it’s more pressure but it’s just a lot of fun.”
This year, McHale will join the team for the full season, finally allowing San Diego fans to see her big forehand at work for the Aviators on the home court. “When I played those four matches last year with Coach John [Lloyd] and Jonny [O’Mara] and Ryan and myself, and we had Kaitlyn Christian for a couple of matches, we had a really good team atmosphere,” she says, adding that she hopes they’ll be able to bring that solid team chemistry back for the 2020 season.
Like other players, she is eager to return to the court playing the sport that she loves, but not before it’s the right time. “Obviously health is first for everyone, and you don’t want to come back too soon and people to be unsafe,” she says. “It’s smart what they’re doing, but it’s a bummer in the middle of the season. But, I understand and obviously when we do come back, we want to make sure that everyone is safe coming to watch, and the players.” Considering whether she’d be open to a return if an option were given to play without spectators for the WTA season, she says, “I think maybe at the beginning if you would have asked me that, I would have been ‘oh no, we don’t want to do that, we want to play with the fans,’ but at the end of the day, we do just want to play, so if that was an option, I think players might now be open to that.” Even so, she remains practical about tennis’ place in the bigger picture. “My heart breaks for all the people that are struggling right now. I’m lucky that I’ve been OK, my family is OK. Obviously, I want to get back to playing, but there are bigger things going on, so I’m not in a rush to get back until it’s safe,” she says.
Holding tight in Atlanta, where she hadn’t exactly intended to be long-term (“I had come down here thinking I would be here for a week, two weeks maybe, tops,” she says), McHale is also staying busy taking classes online from Indiana University through the WTA. “I feel like I’m really maximizing the time off,” she says, adding, “I’m lucky to be here because back home in New Jersey right now, things are really crazy and it’s a lot calmer over here, so I’m happy to be with them. Thankfully, they haven’t gotten sick of me yet and I’m here and I’m enjoying it. We’re just making the best of the situation.”