By Matt Cronin, special to USTA.com
WIMBLEDON, England -- It was difficult to tell who was most excited after scoring their first victory at Wimbledon on Monday: Americans Christina McHale, Ryan Sweeting or Alex Bogomolov Jr., but clearly, the veteran Bogomolov was the loudest, bellowing a scream that could be heard from Court 17 to the top of St. Mary's Hill.
"I've never played a main draw at Wimbledon, and obviously it's always exciting to get a win at a Grand Slam," said Bogomolov Jr., who when he took down fellow American Donald Young, 7-5, 4-6, 6-3, 6-1, also kneeled on the court and pretended to take a picture of his supporters. "My family was here, my friends were here, all of them were sitting down close. I mimicked taking a picture because I wanted to save that mind frame, save that image in my mind. My fiancé was here. My son, who is 18 months old -- well, he was in the nursery. All my friends from Brooklyn. There was just a lot of emotion."
The 23-year-old Sweeting also achieved a historic first - coming back from two sets down to defeat Pablo Andujar, 3-6, 4-6, 6-1, 7-6 (1) 6-1.
"It's a huge accomplishment for me to get a win from two sets down," he said. "In the past, I might have mentally not thrown in the towel but think the match is basically over. I fought hard and stopped fighting myself, and it was good fighting on the court."
The 19-year-old Christina McHale completely flipped the switch in London, leaving the court with a huge smile on her face after she upset No. 28 Ekaterina Makarova, 2-6, 6-1, 8-6. A month ago, she left her court in Paris in tears after she had let go of a 5-0 lead in the third set against Italy's Sara Errani in the first round of Roland Garros.
"I'm really excited to pull it out," she said. "It definitely feels a lot better to be on this side of the match. [Losing in Paris] made me want to work harder because I didn't want that to happen again."
The 28-year-old Bogomolov is ranked at a career-high No. 72, and, amazingly his win over Young was only his second in the main draw of a Slam. It's the first time that the Miami resident had even played the main draw of Wimbledon. He began the year ranked No. 167 but qualified and reached the quarters of Zagreb, won the USTA Dallas Challenger, qualified for Miami and upset No. 4 Andy Murray in the first round, and then reached the final of two clay-court Challengers, which pushed his ranking high enough to get straight into Wimbledon.
The son of a Russian tennis coach who worked with the likes of Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Andrei Medvedev, Bogomolov takes nothing for granted. He's been playing for the better part of decade and has earned every penny of his $844,412 in prize money.
"It's special, it's Wimbledon, my family's here," he said. "It will be more special if I could continue a run. It's been a tough career. I'd like to think I was built for the grind, that as I get older I'll get better."
Sweeting would like to think much the same, as he's just four spots behind his career-high ranking of No. 65. While there has been some discussion of the lack of top-5 players amongst the American men, what has been forgotten is that there are some men who are making strong late- and mid-career moves. Sweeting, who was a former junior standout like Bogomolov, has never played better than he has this year. He qualified and won a match at the Australian Open, qualified and won two matches at Delray Beach and Indian Wells, and won the U.S. Clay Courts in Houston, his first career title.
He has not had a great stint in Europe, going 1-6 in eight weeks coming into Wimbledon, but the 6-foot-5 native of the Bahamas has worked a lot at improving his serve, which unusually for a man of his height has been the weakest part of his game. But now he has turned into somewhat of a weapon, which he'll need in his next match against defending champ Rafael Nadal, who in two matches this year against him at the Australian Open and at Indian Wells, only conceded eight games.
"There are no secrets to his game," said Sweeting, who has been working with USTA trainer Mark Kovacs. "I'm going to need to play great, walk in feeling confidence and execute because I know he's not going to give me anything for free. His balls have more action than everyone. The RPMs he gets on his forehand, there are no other players like that. You can't simulate that shot. It sort of feels like you are being pushed back when he hits, so I'm going to try and get all my body weight going forward. I'm going to have to be aggressive and not leave any balls hanging."
McHale did exactly that in the last two sets against the left-handed Makarova, a very good grass-court player who won Eastbourne last year. After a quick first set, where she was hit off the court, McHale settled down, began to place her serves well, dictate with her forehand, mix up her backhand and scrape for every point. She never wavered during an extremely close third set, finally breaking her foe to 7-6 and then hanging tough to hold and win the match, even though she was down 0-40 on her serve.
"My first thought after I went down 0-40 was, 'You worked so hard to get the break, and you are going to blow it,'" she said. "Then I got myself together and said, 'You are still serving for it, so just play each point.' I guess I wanted it that much more after the loss in Paris."
McHale has been working with USTA Player Development chief Patrick McEnroe, as well as USTA coach Jay Gooding, both whom attended her match at Wimbledon. She's a shy young woman outwardly but has developed a tough interior. Not too many players could have gone through what she did in Paris and a few weeks later got back on the Grand Slam bike and lap a better foe than she lost to at Roland Garros. But after her loss to Errani, she tossed and turned for a night, gave herself two days to dwell on the defeat and then left it behind her.
Now she will face an unseeded player in the next round -- either Ayumi Morita or Tamira Paszek -- and has a chance to make an even bigger name for herself.
"I'm getting a lot more experience in these types of tournaments," she said. "I think I'm starting to feel more like I belong, and winning matches like this helps. That was one of my biggest wins, and where I really want to do well is in Grand Slams, so to do really well here feels really good."