Young Americans showcase talent

Pittsburgh native Alison Riske is understandably fired up after routing ailing No. 7 seed Petra Kvitova in straight sets Saturday. Timothy Clary/AFP/Getty Images

NEW YORK – The secret is out, revealed Alison Riske, the latest in a revolving group of American women breaking through in their careers and on the WTA. So there is no use denying it.

She still carries her blankie.

Not in her tennis bag, mind you. Or in public. The security blanket, now more like a scrap of material, resides in Riske's hotel room, ready to provide private comfort and serve as a source of laughs among her friends and family.

On court, Riske, 23, whose past successes have come mainly on grass courts, is all grown up, taking perhaps the biggest step in her tennis maturation Saturday, upsetting No. 7 seed Petra Kvitova in dominant fashion, 6-3, 6-0 in a third-rounder at the US Open.

"I'm so excited, I feel like I might cry," Riske said in an emotional on-court interview with ESPN's Mary Joe Fernandez. "I have a new confidence in myself. I just believe I belong here."

It was very nearly a doubly dramatic day for U.S. women's tennis as New Jersey native Christina McHale was up a set and a break and one game from victory against No. 13 Ana Ivanovic before dropping a heartbreaker, 4-6, 7-5, 6-4.

Still, McHale, who reached the third round of a Grand Slam tournament for the fifth time and appears to be climbing back toward a spot in the top 30 -- from which she plummeted last summer after a bout of mono -- as well as Riske, showed once again why there is reason to be optimistic about the future of American women's tennis.

"I feel like the world better watch out, we're coming after them," said Riske, who finds herself in the second week of the tournament and her first final 16 of a Grand Slam tournament.

Kvitova, the 2011 Wimbledon champion and 10th-ranked player in the world, lost the last eight games of the match and called for a trainer before the final game, saying afterward that she had a virus with a "very high fever," which kept her in bed Friday.

"My body didn't help me today to move a little bit," Kvitova said. "So unfortunately I tried to play, tried to fight. But yeah, my body wouldn't let me fight."

It was irrelevant to Riske, who was 0-5 in Grand Slams before Wimbledon this year but is 5-1 since; broke into the top 100 in July and now is sure to be in the top 60 when the next rankings come out.

“This was the biggest win of her career,” said Riske’s coach, Yves Boulais, who started working with her again in November after first coaching her at 14.

“Alison is 23, but she’s very young in the game. She played a very small schedule when she was young, so she lacked a little experience, and when she came to Grand Slams, it was very overwhelming for her. Now she is allowing herself to play like she can.”

The Pittsburgh native said she was introduced to the game, along with her two siblings, by her father, a former FBI investigator and Secret Service agent for Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

“My dad always wanted his kids to be in an individual sport so they could kind of determine their own destiny ...,” Riske said. “He kind of forced it upon me. But I grew to love it. I won my first tournament when I was 8 or 9. After that, it was kind of like, all right, I like the trophies.”

Riske, who next plays 30-year-old Daniela Hantuchova (ranked as high as No. 5, in 2003), was two weeks from playing tennis for Vanderbilt in 2009 when she was approached by a family friend who offered to sponsor her on tour.

"I figured this is my chance," she said.

Of course, that was four years ago, and Riske has battled ever since.

"It's really tough out here," she said. "Every week isn't like this. But that's the great part about it, too, because if you do have a bad week, you can follow it up the following week with something better. [But] there were definitely times of doubt."

Now Riske says that she hopes to make her hometown proud and that she takes pride in the slow but steady surge of her tennis compatriots.

"Sloane [Stephens, who plays Serena Williams in a highly anticipated fourth-round match Sunday] and Jamie [Hampton] have obviously paved the way for us," she said. "Madison Keys. They've done exceptionally well. Everyone's young. ... There's a lot of good tennis in all of us.

"When everybody else wins, you're like 'Oh gosh, I wish I could be doing that, too.' But I think that's why it's great because it shows that I hit with them, I practice with them, I can do it, too."