Christina McHale, granddaughter of Avoca native, is world-class tennis player

By Tony Callaio - For Sunday Dispatch
In this undated family photo, tennis pro Christina McHale is held by her grandmother Ann McHale with her grandfather Eugene by her side. Her father John holds older sister Lauren. Eugene McHale grew up in Avoca, graduating from Duryea High School. - Submitted photo
Christina McHale, bottom right, and her sister Lauren, bottom center, are seen with their first cousins at a family wedding in 2017. - Submitted photo
Tennis pro Christina McHale, second from left, stands with her mother Margarita, left, father John, a graduate of Scranton Central and The University of Scranton, and sister Lauren McHale Harrison, who is married to tennis touring pro Ryan Harrison. - Submitted photo
Tennis professional Christina McHale, 25, who has been on the pro tour for eight years, is shown in a doubles match the the Volvo Car Open at Charleston, SC, during the week of April 1. - - Tony Callaio | For Sunday Dispatch
Christina McHale gets off the ground as she returns a serve in her doubles match at the Volvo Car Open at Charleston, SC. - - Tony Callaio | For Sunday Dispatch
Christina McHale moves in to volley a ball during her doubles match at Charleston, SC. - - Tony Callaio | For Sunday Dispatch

CHARLESTON, SC. – If you told 18-year-old Eugene McHale in 1940 one of his future granddaughters would be a successful world-class touring tennis professional travelling the globe, he would, most likely, think you were crazy. After all, in 1940, tennis was an elitist sport and not very popular in northeast Pennsylvania.

The late McHale was born in Avoca in 1922 where he later graduated from Duryea High School after which he served in World War II in the Pacific Theatre. In November 1954, he married Ann Gilgallon, eventually settling in the Nativity section of Scranton.

The McHales raised four children while living in Scranton: Margaret (Peggy), Mary Elizabeth (Mary Liz), Eugene Jr. (Genie) and John.

The McHale name is well known in greater Pittston, especially if you where a student at Pittston Area. The late Jon McHale, teacher and coach, was a first cousin to the four McHale siblings.

Eugene’s son, John, 60, graduated from Scranton Central High School, then from The University of Scranton. After college graduation, John landed a job with SGS North America where today he serves as a vice president of corporate development.

He married Cuban native Margarita Gonzalez and the couple had two daughters, Lauren and Christina, Lauren being two years Christina’s senior.

John’s company sent him and his family to Hong Kong where both daughters took up the game of tennis.

Eventually, the McHales settled back in the U.S. residing in Englewood Cliff, NJ. Christina continued to hone her tennis skills and, at the age of 15, left home for a tennis academy in Florida.

Right after her 18th birthday on May 11, 2010 and just before the French Open, she turned professional.

Now 25, Christina has been touring the world where she has reached as high as 24th in the world in singles and 35th in doubles, earning over $3.5 million to date.

“I remember going to Scranton to visit my grandmother and grandfather when they had a house there,” she said. Christina was 14 years old when her grandmother Ann McHale passed away and 16 when her grandfather Eugene died. Neither grandparent got to see her compete at the world-class level.

Because Christina travels worldwide, seeing extended family hasn’t worked out so well for her. “I don’t get a lot of chances to see my dad’s family, only during holidays, maybe Thanksgiving or a wedding,” she said.

“They are super nice people and I got to see them last year at my cousin’s wedding,” Christina said when speaking about the Pittston McHales.

Jon McHale passed away in 2012 at the age of 68, he did get to see Christina when she reached the highest ranking of her career.

Jon’s widow Cathie has kept in contact with Christina’s aunt Peggy Cantafio and other New Jersey family members. Her son Shawn lives fairly close to the NJ McHale family so it gives her plenty of opportunities to see those McHales, especially during holidays.

According to Cathie, she and her son are always glued to the TV when cousin Christina is playing. “My kids love Christina,” Cathie said. “Even though Christina is always on tour and we don’t get to see her often, my kids love her.”

Cathie’s daughter-in-law Debbie plays tennis a few times a week in New Jersey. “She plays in three tennis leagues and all while holding down her job as a Dr. of Pharmacy,” Cathie said.

Christina was at Charleston, SC to play singles and doubles at the Volvo Car Open. the first tournament beginning the clay court season that will culminate at the French Open beginning May 27.

“I’m leaving on April 18 for Europe to play six clay court events,” Christina said in preparation for the upcoming grand slam tournament in Paris.

“It’s the earliest I’ll be in Europe to play on clay,” she admitted. After a bit of a slide in her rankings over the years, Christina feels she’s back to playing well and is looking forward to improving her rankings.

“I feel like I’m playing some good tennis recently and heading to Europe will be good for me to get a really good feel for the clay,” Christina said. “The current rankings are not reflecting how well I’m playing.”

Christina has been a steady top-50 player for most of her career.

After the clay court season, Christina will look forward to her favorite surface playing on hard courts that will lead up to the last grand slam of the year, the US Open at Flushing, New York in late August.

Whenever and wherever Christina plays, the Pittston McHales will be watching with pride.

In this undated family photo, tennis pro Christina McHale is held by her grandmother Ann McHale with her grandfather Eugene by her side. Her father John holds older sister Lauren. Eugene McHale grew up in Avoca, graduating from Duryea High School.
https://www.psdispatch.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/web1_McHale.jpgIn this undated family photo, tennis pro Christina McHale is held by her grandmother Ann McHale with her grandfather Eugene by her side. Her father John holds older sister Lauren. Eugene McHale grew up in Avoca, graduating from Duryea High School. Submitted photo

Christina McHale, bottom right, and her sister Lauren, bottom center, are seen with their first cousins at a family wedding in 2017.
https://www.psdispatch.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/web1_McHale2.jpgChristina McHale, bottom right, and her sister Lauren, bottom center, are seen with their first cousins at a family wedding in 2017. Submitted photo

Tennis pro Christina McHale, second from left, stands with her mother Margarita, left, father John, a graduate of Scranton Central and The University of Scranton, and sister Lauren McHale Harrison, who is married to tennis touring pro Ryan Harrison.
https://www.psdispatch.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/web1_McHale3.jpgTennis pro Christina McHale, second from left, stands with her mother Margarita, left, father John, a graduate of Scranton Central and The University of Scranton, and sister Lauren McHale Harrison, who is married to tennis touring pro Ryan Harrison. Submitted photo

Tennis professional Christina McHale, 25, who has been on the pro tour for eight years, is shown in a doubles match the the Volvo Car Open at Charleston, SC, during the week of April 1.
https://www.psdispatch.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/web1_McHale4.jpgTennis professional Christina McHale, 25, who has been on the pro tour for eight years, is shown in a doubles match the the Volvo Car Open at Charleston, SC, during the week of April 1. Tony Callaio | For Sunday Dispatch

Christina McHale gets off the ground as she returns a serve in her doubles match at the Volvo Car Open at Charleston, SC.
https://www.psdispatch.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/web1_McHale5.jpgChristina McHale gets off the ground as she returns a serve in her doubles match at the Volvo Car Open at Charleston, SC. Tony Callaio | For Sunday Dispatch

Christina McHale moves in to volley a ball during her doubles match at Charleston, SC.
https://www.psdispatch.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/web1_McHale6.jpgChristina McHale moves in to volley a ball during her doubles match at Charleston, SC. Tony Callaio | For Sunday Dispatch
Christina McHale turned pro just after 18th birthday

By Tony Callaio

For Sunday Dispatch

Reach the Sunday Dispatch newsroom at 570-655-1418 or by email at sd@psdispatch.com

Reach the Sunday Dispatch newsroom at 570-655-1418 or by email at sd@psdispatch.com