NEW YORK – As big as she serves, as hard as she hits the ball, as great an athlete as she is and as much of an all-court game as she plays, Coco Vandeweghe should have been here long before now.
But to each his own journey.
And at 25, perhaps the New York-born, Southern California-raised Vandeweghe is just now putting all of those numerous pieces of her very talented puzzle together.
Vandeweghe defeated the current world No. 1 Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic 7-6 (4), 6-3 in the first women’s quarterfinal at the US Open Wednesday.
The victory made her the third American to win her quarterfinal match over the last two days. Her friend and Fed Cup teammate Madison Keys got it done in the evening match, defeating qualifier Kaia Kanepi 6-3, 6-3.
And so it was done: the women’s semifinals Thursday night literally will be all-American.
Long road from junior title to final four
This is Vandeweghe’s 11th consecutive appearance at her home-country Grand Slam. And this is the first time she has ever gotten past the second round.
Back in 2008, at age 16, she defeated Kristina Mladenovic in the semis and Gabriela Paz in the final to win the juniors.
“I’m a pretty positive person, so I don’t really look too much at the negatives of my life. I try to move forward as best I can, and I’ve always done that. I’ve always been more of a glass half full,” Vandeweghe said. “I don’t really take too much in previous bad experiences. I take more in the positives and learning curve that you can learn from losses; you can learn from wins.”
But even then, there were moments. Vandeweghe, mother Tauna and her coach really got into it after a match earlier in that 2008 tournament.
Folks were walking by, taking a wide road around them, as the trio got heated about what sounded like some unacceptable on-court behaviour by Vandeweghe.
It went on for 15 minutes; they were completely oblivious to all the people around them.
Putting the pieces together
Vandeweghe hasn’t changed that much. She’s still a very feisty individual on court. Her language is pretty salty. And her strutting body language can be off-putting to some.
For whatever reason, her association with Aussie Pat Cash (volatile himself as a player) has helped channel all of that.
“I think the biggest thing is channeling my intensity and tenacity out onto the court and putting it into a singular focus. I think that’s probably one of the biggest things he’s implemented into my regimen,” Vandeweghe said.
It is who she is. Vandeweghe’s emotions have hurt her many times on the long road to get to this final four. But they’re also part of a competitive nature that, combined with her great athleticism and multiple on-court skills, may someday make a major champion out of her.
“I think everyone has their favorite, and everyone has their least favorite player. Whatever I am to any person out there, doesn’t really affect me personally. I mean, I have my favorites in every sport and in general. You know, I even have my favorite tennis players,” Vandeweghe said. “So it comes with sports. I think there’s going to be lots of players misunderstood. There’s going to be players that are thought of one way but really they are another way. I think it’s just sports. You grow and you learn and you adjust to the moments.”
It’s taking longer than most expected; that’s equally true of the two other younger semifinalists who will take the court Thursday night.
Fabulous (American) Four
Stephens, 24, has always seemed less ambitious than her peers, for whatever reason. And of all of them, it has always seemed easier for her – at least from the outside. For the last year, Stephens was sidetracked with a foot injury and subsequent surgery. Over the last month, she is back with a vengeance.
Keys, 22, has been in the top 10 and is every bit the talent Vandeweghe is. Both women have great serves. Their serves make you wonder why so many of the women serve so poorly.
But Keys, unlike Vandeweghe, is learning more of an all-court game, a tactical game on the fly. It’s a lot harder to do it that way, when you’re full-bore into your professional career and have to be concerned more with winning matches than becoming a better tennis player. But she’s good enough to do it; she’s already doing it.
The queen and her princesses
Along with Venus Williams, the immortal 37-year-old who may well end up winning it all, the four American women have turned this US Open around.
So many top names were missing at the start – notably, Serena Williams on the women’s side. On the men’s side, too many to mention. So many really good players flamed out early.
Even Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal struggled at the beginning of the tournament.
This all-USA team – all of whom represented the country at the Olympics a year ago – will be the story of this quintessentially American tournament regardless of who is holding up the trophies on the weekend.
On Thursday night, Williams will play Stephens for only the second time. The first time was in the first round of the 2015 French Open. And it was won by Stephens.
Then, Keys will play Vandeweghe for the third time in five weeks, after they had never, ever met before during their careers.
“We have so many Americans to talk about in the last days of the US Open. I can’t tell you how many times I have sat in this chair and had to hear, you know, how horrible tennis is in America,” Keys said. “So this feels really good. The fact that there is going to be, you know, two all-American semifinals, two, you know, people in the finals in Saturday.”