By Larry Fine
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Unseeded teen-ager Christina McHale struck a blow for emerging young U.S. women's players by beating France's eighth-seeded Marion Bartoli 7-6 6-2 to reach the third round of the U.S. Open Wednesday.
In the grand slam event where 29-year-old, 13-time major winner Serena Williams is the highest American seed at number 28, the 19-year-old McHale made a mark for herself by ousting the 2007 Wimbledon runner-up.
With the Williams sisters, Serena and 31-year-old Venus aging and battling injuries and illness, the state of U.S. women's tennis has been a talking point in recent years.
Asked if she dreamed of filling the void and one day becoming the next great American player, the New Jersey girl from Englewood Cliffs, about 20 minutes from Flushing Meadows, said: "Yeah, that's what I'm working toward.
"There's a lot of American players, young American players, right now that are all kind of pushing each other. So it's exciting."
Later under sunny skies at the National Tennis Center, 21-year-old American Irina Falconi upset 14th-seeded Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia 6-2 3-6 7-5 to join compatriot McHale in the third round.
Falconi, who was born in Ecuador and moved to New York at age three before settling in Florida 11 years later, waved an American flag after her victory on Arthur Ashe Stadium court, where she got to play after Venus Williams withdrew from her scheduled match because of effects from an autoimmune disease.
"I've heard so much about media talking about American tennis, and I really wanted to portray that there's a huge wave of American players," said Falconi, who considers herself a New Yorker and is good friends with McHale.
"The fact that her and I both have New York roots...it's just unbelievable."
McHale and Falconi were entering foreign territory after going deeper than ever in a grand slam draw.
McHale, ranked ninth in the world, impressed Bartoli with her athleticism and anticipation on the court.
"She was moving extremely well," said Bartoli, a six-time winner on the tour including a victory this year at Stanford. "I would have to hit five or six winners against most players to get one by her. That's how I felt on the court.
"She was defending so well, I had to go for so much more than usual. She deserved to win."
McHale has been living at home and practicing at the National Tennis Center. Sometimes she hits with four-time U.S. Open champion John McEnroe, another local resident.
"We've hit a lot throughout the year," the soft-spoken McHale said. "It's really nice having someone like him around to hit with and give advice."
McHale said she had fond memories of coming to the Open as a kid with her friends.
"I just remember we'd all get here when the gates opened and we'd literally spend the whole day here, all of our friends, running from court to court, trying to get an autograph, a picture.
"I got Rafa's autograph. That was exciting for us. We got Agassi, too."
(Editing by Steve Ginsburg)
(Corrects 14th paragraph to show McEnroe four-time U.S. champion)