Christina McHale (left) and Irina Falconi (right).
© Irina Falconi
The United States women’s tennis team collected the gold and bronze medals in singles and the silver medal in doubles at the 2011 Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico, held October 14-30, while the U.S. men captured bronze in doubles.
No. 2 seed Irina Falconi, 21, of Atlanta, won the gold medal after defeating Puerto Rico’s Monica Puig 6-3, 6-2. The last American woman to win a tennis gold medal at the Pan American Games was Pam Shriver in 1991.
"Winning a gold medal for the USA – there is no better feeling," said Falconi. "To represent your country is so gratifying; it’s unreal."
"Irina played a very solid, mature, veteran match today" said Pan Am women’s coach and USTA National Coach Tom Gullikson. "She was extremely steady and controlled the ball very well. She played some great tennis."
Falconi turned pro in 2010 following a stellar two-year career at Georgia Tech, where she was named the 2010 College Player of the Year. She had her best result as a professional at the 2011 US Open, reaching the third round after upsetting No. 14 Dominika Cibulkova in the second round in Arthur Ashe Stadium. Falconi also competed in the three other Grand Slam tournaments this year, qualifying for the Australian Open and Wimbledon and winning a USTA playoff to earn a wild card into the French Open.
No. 1 seed Christina McHale, 19, of Englewood Cliffs, N.J., won the bronze medal, defeating Argentina’s Florencia Molinero 6-1, 6-1.
"I couldn’t be more proud of Christina," said Gullikson. "She didn’t play her best tennis and was obviously very disappointed (not to make the gold medal match), but she was able to bounce back and play very well to win the bronze medal."
"It’s really exciting to win the bronze medal, especially after a tough loss," said McHale. "I’m happy that I was able to come back and win; it’s been a really fun week with a great team."
McHale became the youngest player in the WTA Top 50 after reaching the third round of the 2011 US Open, defeating No. 8 seed Marion Bartoli in the second round. Three weeks prior, McHale upset world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki at the Olympus US Open Series event in Cincinnati. McHale trains at the USTA Training Center-East at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing, N.Y., and was one the first players to train full-time at the USTA Player Development Headquarters in Boca Raton, Fla., as part of the residency program from 2007-2010.
Falconi and McHale teamed up later in the day to capture the silver medal in doubles, losing to No. 1 seeds Molinero and Maria Irigoyen in a tight 6-4, 2-6, [10-6] match.
In men’s doubles, No. 4 seeds Nicholas Monroe, 29, of Chapel Hill, N.C., and Greg Ouellette, 25, of Ormond Beach, Fla., beat Barbados’ Darian King and Haydn Lewis 6-7, 6-2, [10-7], to earn the bronze medal and the fourth medal for the U.S.
USTA National Coaches Gullikson and Dustin Taylor coached the women’s and men’s teams, respectively.
The Pan American Games are held every four years in the year immediately prior to the Olympic Games, and tennis has been contested at the Games since the event’s inception in 1951. Among the Americans who have won a gold medal in singles at the Pan American Games are Althea Gibson (1959, singles), Arthur Ashe (1967, mixed doubles), Patrick McEnroe (1987, men’s doubles), Pam Shriver (1991, singles, women’s doubles, and mixed doubles) and Paul Goldstein (1999, singles).