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After her partner's major breakout, is Caty McNally poised to be next?

After her partner's major breakout, is Caty McNally poised to be next?

Having come through qualifying, the 18-year-old upstaged Samantha Stosur to win her first Australian Open main draw match, and now looks to reach the third round of a major in singles for the first time Wednesday.

MELBOURNE—An American teen beat a Grand Slam champion on a big stage in the first round of the Australian Open. 

But Coco Gauff—who overcame Venus Williams for a second time at the opening hurdle of a major—had company Monday.  

Caty McNally collected her first ever victory at the Australian Open by downing Sam Stosur and in not dissimilar circumstances. 

While Gauff had to withstand a rally from Williams in the first set en route to a 7-6 (5), 6-3 triumph on Margaret Court Arena, McNally, a qualifier, held off Stosur in the second set of her 6-1, 6-4 win at Melbourne Arena. 

Some might know her only as Gauff’s doubles partner and great friend—understandable given the 15-year-old’s rapid rise to stardom, yet also a little unfair—but McNally is climbing the rankings, too, albeit in less dramatic fashion. 

Stosur certainly didn’t need to be convinced of the quality McNally possesses. 

“She's going to be an up-and-coming player, no doubt about it,” Stosur said. 

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If the 18-year-old beats twice Slam quarterfinalist Zhang Shuai to start play on Court 13 Wednesday, a maiden appearance in the third round of a major follows. And McNally, who took a set off Serena Williams at the US Open, would only be around 10 spots off cracking the Top 100. Twelve months ago, McNally sat outside the top 400. 

She intended to watch tape of Zhang; the Chinese No. 2 meanwhile won’t need to go far to get some guidance on McNally given Stosur is her good mate.

“I try not to think about the numbers,” McNally told TENNIS.com. “I’d want to crack the Top 100 and possibly do it after this tournament, but I’m not too worried about it. Just kind of working on my game. 

“And I think that if I continue to improve it every day, my ranking will be exactly where I want it to be.”

Gauff’s parents, Corey and Candi, played basketball and ran track at Georgia State and Florida State, respectively. McNally also hails from a sporting family. A tennis one, to be more specific. 

Mom Lynn reached 246th in the world in doubles in 1990 and still coaches in Cincinnati at The Club at Harper’s Point, with brother John playing at Ohio State. 

“I think we always had tennis on at my house,” said McNally, a frequent visitor to Cincinnati’s Western & Southern Open. “It’s still always on in my house. My dad loves tennis, is kind of like a tennis freak, so when I wake up in the morning, it’s not always my favorite thing. Trying to escape it sometimes, but yeah, I was always at the club my mom still works at today.

“I always wanted to be a professional tennis player, ever since I was really young.”

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She said she was never pressured to take up tennis, however. Indeed, McNally competed in basketball through the seventh grade and still loves hoops. 

“Even growing up in a tennis family, always being around the sport, I was never really forced to play it, never was given a racquet in my hand,” she said. “I kind of just chose it.”

The siblings are coached by Kevin O’Neill, who has known McNally ever since she was around four.  

O’Neill’s own mentor was Steve Stefanki, the brother of Larry Stefanki—he of stints with Andy Roddick, Marcelo Rios and Fernando Gonzalez, among others.  

“Caty’s a really good girl with character, the same as John,” he said. “They’re an extension of my family and I’ll be around them for the rest of their lives.”

The plan is for John—the Big Ten’s rookie of the year in 2018—to turn pro after he obtains his degree. 

O’Neill is keeping in touch with the Buckeye despite being in another hemisphere. And his advice is simple. 

“I’m trying to get John to play like her sister all the time, doubles, singles, the whole thing,” said O’Neill. “I said to him, “I hope you watch your sister play because that’s how you want to be playing, exactly the same.”

Who knows, brother and sister might one day be combining in mixed doubles. 

For now—and the foreseeable future—McNally’s successful pairing with Gauff endures. 

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The duo went 17-5 in all matches with two titles in 2019, in Washington D.C. and Luxembourg. 

Later this week, they’ll open their Australian Open campaign against a pair of players who also emerged last season, Karolina Muchova of the Czech Republic and Switzerland’s Jil Teichmann.

The goal one day is to make the WTA Finals. 

“When we’re playing our games and we’re on, it’s kind of scary how good we can be,” said McNally, a massive Roger Federer fan. “But it’s actually just really exciting.”

Excitement, too, surrounds McNally in the singles. 


Caty McNally, factfile

Age: 18

Born: Cincinnati 

If not a tennis player, what would you be doing: “I think I’d play basketball. Outside of sports, I’m pretty creative and like to draw and paint. Maybe do something with that.”

A city break or the beach: “Beach.” 

Do you cook: “No, I’m really bad in the kitchen. I let my dad to that.”

Favorite food: “I really like avocados, avocado toast, I eat that all the time. But all foods.”

Best friends, besides Coco: “Whitney Osuigwe and she’s probably one of my other close best friends but I get along with the other American girls, too.”