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Young Americans impress in Indian Wells

INDIAN WELLS, CA - MARCH 13: Bjorn Fratangelo returns a shot against Novak Djokovic of Serbia during the BNP Paribas Open at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden on March 11 at Indian Wells Tennis Garden on March 12, 2016 in Indian Wells, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
March 16, 2016 03:48 PM

By Jackie Finn, USTA.com

Many of America’s rising stars earned hard-fought victories and captured career milestones in the desert – the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Calif. – this past week. USTA.com takes a look at some of their performances: 

Christina McHale 

McHale, 23, fell just short of her first quarterfinal appearance at the BNP Paribas Open – one of four Premier Mandatory events on the 2016 WTA schedule – losing in the fourth round to seasoned veteran Samantha Stosur, 6-4, 2-6, 6-4. The loss to the Aussie ended an impressive run for McHale, who toppled Top 40 Frenchwoman Caroline Garcia in the opening round and upset 2015 Wimbledon finalist and world No. 4 Garbiñe Muguruza, 7-5, 6-1, to advance to the round of 32. The victory was McHale’s third over a top 5 opponent, and her first since 2012.

Despite the close loss to Stosur, a former Indian Wells semifinalist and US Open champion, McHale’s run through Indian Wells should help solidify the current world No. 62 as a threat moving forward – and hasten her ascent back into the Top 30.

Nicole Gibbs

Gibbs, 23, who earned a spot in the main draw of the 2016 BNP Paribas Open by advancing through the qualifying tournament, saw her impressive run end in the round of 16 with a competitive 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 loss to No. 8 Petra Kvitova.

Despite the end result, Gibbs’ stock is on the rise. She defeated No. 93 Alexandra Dulgheru, No. 72 Yaroslava Shvedova and, most notably, another rising American star in No. 23 Madison Keys, to set up her match with Kvitova – drawing considerable attention along the way for her potent offensive and defensive display on the court.

This was her second impressive tournament run in 2016, following a run to the quarterfinals of Monterrey in February. Since teaming up with new coach Roger Smith after last year’s US Open, Gibbs’ results on court have been positive, helping the 2014 Stanford grad reach a career-high singles ranking of No. 84 in early March – a register that should rise into the Top 80 in the next rankings.

Bjorn Fratangelo

Fratangelo, 22, did his best to shock the tennis world at the BNP Paribas Open this year, and his efforts did not go unnoticed. The young American, who entered the tournament ranked No. 149 in the world, did something that very few people can claim to have done: take the first set off of world No. 1 Novak Djokovic.

In fact, it was the first time Djokovic dropped a first set to a player ranked outside the Top 100 since 2012. And Fratangelo (pictured above) appeared to do it with ease, taking the frame, 6-2.

Although the American would go on to lose the next two sets, 6-1, 6-2, his ability to go toe-to-toe with the best was a declaration of his skills, five years in the making. The 2011 junior French Open champion, Fratangelo, who is named after Bjorn Borg, may finally be coming into his game on the pro level.
Frances Tiafoe

Tiafoe, 18, became the youngest player in the second round of the BNP Paribas Open by defeating good friend and fellow rising American Taylor Fritz, 6-2, 2-6, 6-3, in his opening match. The victory was also historic, as he was the first of his fellow “1998 born Americans” to capture a Masters 1000 win.

Tiafoe’s second-round match against No. 18 David Goffin was just as memorable, a three-setter that eventually came down to a tiebreak that fell in the Belgian’s favor. Although Tiafoe could not earn a second check in the win column, he played aggressively, dictating most of the points before fading at the end.

The 3-6, 6-3, 7-6(2) outcome wasn’t ideal, but the American certainly earned a place in the crowd’s hearts. His bold, spirited play, matched by a bright yellow and fire red outfit, was exciting and engaging and it seems Tiafoe – as well as the rest of his “ATP Next Gen” comrades, a group that includes Fritz – may be poised for a monumental year on the tour.