US – Belarus tied 1-1 after Day 1

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On paper, the USA are massive favorites to win the Fed Cup final over upstart Belarus.

But on court, when tennis players are toiling for their country, a lot of things can happen.

So the fact that home-team Belarus and the U.S. are tied 1-1 after the first day of singles Saturday in Minsk is a surprise, but not a total shock.

Coco Vandeweghe, the American No. 1 who entered the top 10 in the WTA Tour rankings for the first time earlier this week, opened with a 6-4, 6-4 victory over Aliaksandra Sasnovich.

There was, as Vandeweghe put it, a “brain fart” when she was up a set and a break in the second set. But she quickly put it right.

The second rubber, between US Open champion Sloane Stephens and up-and-coming teenager Aryna Sabalenka, was a different story.

Stephens, whose Open aftermath has been like one big hangover, has yet to win a match since she defeated Madison Keys in the final in New York. Then again, she has played just four in the nearly two months since then.

While the official site’s “gamer” made no mention of the thick wrap below the American’s left knee, it clearly seemed to be an issue in Belarus’s 6-3, 3-6, 6-4 win.

Slam champ vs. up-and-comer

Sabalenka is a talented but raw up-and-comer who reached the final in Tianjin, China last month. She was up in both sets against the more experienced Maria Sharapova, but lost both.

BelarusMuch of the match simply wasn’t in Stephens’ hands. There were 31 winners and 57 unforced errors directly attributed to Sabalenka; that’s about a third of the total points right there.

Some shots, Stephens wouldn’t have been able to chase down no matter how healthy she was. But the American’s speed and silky movement are a cornerstone of her game. Against an erratic opponent like Sabalenka, she might well have gotten enough balls back into play to force even more errors.

But she wasn’t able to, even if she put in a solid effort to get back into it in a solid second set.

She gave her opponent and the occasion all the credit. 

“We’re playing Fed Cup, so anything goes,” Stephens said. “I want to play like that. That was insane. Playing for her country, the crowd behind her, she played great.”

For Sabalenka, there was plenty of emotion.

“I don’t know, I feel like disappointed, was a really hard fight for me. I felt really bad during the match. My mentality. I don’t know what happened. I feel all these emotions. Finally I won. I’m just happy,” she said during a post-match interview on court. “During the game I didn’t think she’s 15 (in the world) I was thinking I have to win because my team was 0-1 and I have to make the score 1-1, so that’s all what I had on my mind during the match.

“First time I cry after the match. Actually big win for me,” she added. “It’s like it’s (the) final, it’s home, and you play against America. They won it 17 times. That’s why the emotions are coming really more. I didn’t feel it before.”

Decisive Sunday looms

There was a small but vocal American fan presence in Minsk Saturday. But the Belarussians were ebullient in their support of their own. (Fed Cup livestream)

The second and final day begins at 6 a.m. EST (3 a.m. PST) and will have both reverse singles and the doubles as the fifth rubber.

First up will be the battle between the two No. 1s – Vandeweghe and Sabalenka.

It will be loud, and feisty. And the fascinating dynamic will be to see how the relatively inexperienced Sabalenka reacts against an opponent who has a much more dynamic, cocky on-court presence in Vandweghe.

Then, with one of the squads up 2-1 and looking for one more victory to clinch, US captain Kathy Rinaldi has a decision to make.

Can Stephens, under the current conditions, take care of Sasnovich? Or does she substitute in Shelby Rogers or Alison Riske?

Both are solid; neither, obviously, have Stephens’s resumé.

Doubles decider?

And, in the case of a fifth and Cup-deciding doubles rubber, what happens then?

The U.S. are sorely missing the injured Bethanie Mattek-Sands, recovering from a serious knee injury suffered at Wimbledon. She’s one of the best doubles players in the world. 

Belarus
Vandeweghe, the highest-ranked American in both singles and doubles, will have a huge say on the outcome of the Fed Cup final (Screenshot: FedCup stream)

Vandeweghe has the best doubles ranking and the most big-event experience in doubles. She has a little experience with Riske, more with Rogers, with whom she played at Indian Wells and the US Open this year and won a $50,000 on grass back in 2015.

For Belarus, the options aren’t that great.

The two other team members, 25-year-old Lidziya Marozava and 19-year-old Vera Lapko, are ranked No. 69 (a career high) and No. 102 in doubles, respectively. 

But they have never played together.

Marozava last played doubles in Fed Cup in 2013, but with Sasnovich.

How different would this tie look with a fit and match tough Victoria Azarenka playing for Belarus? It seemed, when the former No. 1 returned to action during the grass-court season this summer, that this is where we would be, five months later.

But because of her well-documented custody issues, it didn’t work out that way.

(Screenshots from the ITF’s Fed Cup streaming service)

Keys, Stephens win all-American day

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NEW YORK – Whatever happened, there was going to be an all-American women’s singles final Saturday at the US Open.

What was left to be determined Thursday was who the participants would be.

Among the embarrassment of American riches in the final four, only two could advance to the final day.

It was going to be either Venus Williams or Sloane Stephens. And it was going to be either Madison Keys or Coco Vandeweghe.

In the end, it was the two youngest – Stephens, 24 and Madison Keys, 22.

Both of them pulled off bravado performances of very different kinds in the semifinals.

First to get to the finish line was Stephens, who defeated Venus Williams 6-1, 0-6, 7-5 victory that had a little bit of everything.

By the third set, when both were playing well at the same time and giving it everything they had, it was nerve-wracking and dramatic and in doubt until the very end.

“I just wasn’t playing well. I just wasn’t playing well. Those are moments where you have to dig deep and figure out how to get the ball on the court and have a big game. I can’t be tentative and try to figure out how to put that ball in,” Williams said of that first set. “But I figured out a lot, but she played great defense. I haven’t played her in a long time. Clearly she’s seen me play many, many times. I haven’t seen her play as much.”

No solace for Venus

It didn’t matter what the question was, Williams wasn’t having much of it during her press conference. She wasn’t the least bit interested in talking about tributes, or about what a superb season she’s having, or any of that. She showed up to win, and she didn’t get the job done.

Keys
Venus Williams and Sloane Stephens, 13 years apart but neck-and-neck at the end to try to get to the US Open women’s singles final.

Williams was the sentimental choice who obviously won’t have that many more opportunities to win another major. But the 37-year-old ran out of legs in the end.

She made a lot of errors, but she didn’t have a lot of options. Whenever the rallies went past a certain length, Stephens won most of them. “Yeah, it was definitely well competed. In the end, she ended up, you know, winning more points than I did. That’s what it adds up to,” she said. 

A month ago, unthinkable

Stephens’  sub-900 ranking just over a month ago has been well-documented. And she needed to use a protected ranking just to get into the US Open, It will be a first Grand Slam singles final.  

It also will be the first for Keys, who crushed Coco Vandweghe 6-1, 6-2 in the nightcap.

“I think it’s amazing. I definitely never envisioned it happening this way, but I couldn’t think of a better person to have this first experience with,” Keys said.

Keys
Venus ran out of gas, though not out of will, by the end of the third set against Sloane Stephens Thursday.

After Williams came back with a roar in the second set, Stephens just tried to stay positive.

“I wasn’t making that many mistakes in the first set. Venus made a lot of errors. I think in the second set, obviously playing Venus, she’s an amazing competitor and she’s been here many times before. She wasn’t going to just give it to me. I think she really stepped up her game in the second set. I mean, you don’t expect anything else from multi-Grand Slam champion. She’s been here before,” Stephens said. “I tried just not to get too down on myself. I knew obviously in the third set I would have to fight my tail off and get my racket on every ball.”

All Keys, from first to last

If the first semifinal was dramatic, the second was one-way traffic – for Keys.

Madison Keys, despite a “something” in her right leg, was pretty sprightly after reaching the US Open women’s singles final Thursday.

The 22-year-old put up a performance of such quality and bravura over Coco Vandeweghe, there wasn’t a single solitary thing her countrywoman could do to stop her.

Even a medical timeout to have her right upper leg wrapped at 6-1, 4-1 didn’t interrupt Keys’ flow. All it did was take a match that would have lasted less than an hour and nudge it over the one-hour mark.

“None of it had anything to do with the occasion. It was more Madison played an unbelievable match. I didn’t really have much to do with anything out there,” Vandeweghe said. 

Vandeweghe was, needless to say, quite upset.

“She was playing a great first set. I thought at some point she might start running a little bit colder than what she was doing. But I mean, it’s really not over until the last point. I was fighting as hard as I could for as long as I could, but she stayed hot the whole time,” Vandeweghe added. “It’s a little bit frustrating right now how I’m feeling of that it wasn’t so much of my say-so. I don’t feel that way very often in my tennis, so I think it’s a little bit of an opportunity lost for me.”

Keys knew she couldn’t have done it much better.

“I played really, really well. It was kind of one of those days where I came out and I was kind of in a zone. And I just kind of forced myself to stay there. I knew I was going to have to play really well in order to beat her. And, you know, I feel like once things started going, it just kind of fell into place. Luckily I was able to close it out the way that I did,” she said. “

At 25, perhaps Coco’s time is now

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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.

Keys, like Stephens and Vandeweghe, is into her first US Open semifinal. Venus, as we know, has been there and done that.

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.”

Coco
Vandeweghe still wears the same chain and medallion today that she did back in 2008, when she won the junior girls’ event.

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.

Coco

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.

Coco
Keys (seen here at junior Wimbledon in 2011 at age 16) had a lot of injuries during her junior days. This year, two wrist procedures held her back. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

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.

A pretty stacked women’s team in Rio included both Williams sisters, Keys, Stephens, Vandeweghe and Bethanie Mattek-Sands. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

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.”

US Open Day 10 – What to Watch

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NEW YORK – Whatever watching you’re doing, it’s going to be on Arthur Ashe Stadium under the roof.

When the schedule for the second Wednesday came out Tuesday evening, the US Open didn’t even bother trying to schedule the myriad of junior and legends and men’s doubles matches that would normally have been played.

The weather forecast was that bad.

To the four singles quarterfinals scheduled on Arthur Ashe, they did add three women’s quarterfinal doubles matches on the Grandstand. But that was with a hope and a prayer.

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Women’s Matches to Watch

[1] Karolina Pliskova (CZE) vs. [20] Coco Vandeweghe (USA)

Two more Americans will try to add their names to the women’s singles semifinal roster, along with Venus Williams and Sloane Stephens.

Those two got it done – both in third-set tiebreaks, Tuesday.

First up is No. 20 seed Coco Vandeweghe, who has the toughest task of all against world No. 1 Karolina Pliskova.

Despite being the top-ranked woman in the world, Pliskova has been very much under the radar during the US Open. Part of that was the stadium-court scheduling and return of Maria Sharapova. The other has been the success of the American women at their home Slam.

Pliskova’s hold on No. 1 was tenuous going in. There were, in theory, eight women who could have ended the US Open in the top spot. But most of them fell away quite early. That includes No. 2 Simona Halep, who was just five ranking points behind at the start and had far fewer ranking points to defend this fortnight than Pliskova, a finalist last year.

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Now, only one player stands in the way of the Czech’s maintaining the top spot: Wimbledon champion Garbiñe Muguruza.

If Pliskova doesn’t reach the final (i.e., win this match against Vandeweghe and her semi-final as well), Muguruza will become the new No. 1, the 24th player in the history of the WTA Tour to do so.  

Pliskova won their last meeting, on the indoor clay-court track in Stuttgart. But Vandeweghe won their previous two meetings, on hard court in Dubai and at Wimbledon two years ago, in the second round.

There will be big serving, and hard hitting. And, hopefully, some fruitful net attacking by Vandweghe to change things up.

[15] Madison Keys (USA) vs. [Q] Kaia Kanepi (EST)

The theme of the day for the women is power as two more hard hitters take the court tonight.

“Late Night with Madison” has become a theme with the 22-year-old American, who has fed off the well-refreshed late night crowds on Arthur Ashe Stadium.

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Coco Vandeweghe and Madison Keys had no hard feelings after their Stanford final last month – clearly! Both returned to the top 20.

This time, she and Kanepi are the opening act for the blockbuster to follow between Roger Federer and Juan Martin del Potro.

Kanepi, sidelined for much of the last few years with plantar fasciitis in both feet as well as a bout with the Epstein-barr virus, has gone through the qualifying and won four main-draw matches to get this far.

Keys has played some marathons, but still would be relatively fresher.

There’s a decade between them (Kanepi is 32). But they’ve only met once, on clay in Madrid in 2015 (won by Kanepi).

Men’s Matches to Watch

[1] Rafael Nadal (ESP) vs. Andrey Rublev (RUS)

Nadal’s draw has worked out extremely well for him. He has yet to face a top-50 player, and Rublev is no exception.

But the 19-year-old Russian, who upset No. 7 Grigor Dimitrov earlier in the tournament, will be top 50 when this tournament is over. In fact, he’ll be in the top 40 no matter what happens against Nadal. Rublev also beat No. 9 seed David Goffin, clearly hobbled by a knee injury.

Nadal has never played Rublev. But he’s 1-0 against his coach, a Spaniard named Fernando Vicente. Nadal beat Vicente, who reached No. 29 in the singles rankings in 2000,  in straight sets in the first round of the 2003 US Open. Nadal was 17 at the time.

[3] Roger Federer (SUI) vs. [24] Juan Martin del Potro (ARG)

This rematch of the 2009 US Open final was the most hotly-anticipated potential clash on the men’s side with the exception of one – a potential Federer-Nadal semifinal.

That del Potro got to this place at all was close to miraculous, after he struggled with a virus in the 36 hours before his match against No. 6 seed Dominic Thiem.

Down two sets to none, aching and ailing, del Potro somehow found a way to come back and win in five. It was a match he called “unforgettable.”

He should be feeling better by this point. But obviously not at his best. 

Federer had an unblemished record against his previous three opponents (Mikhail Youzhny, Feliciano Lopez, Philipp Kohlscrieber). He’s 16-5 against del Potro. But the Argentine’s victories over him have hurt.

He defeated Federer twice at his hometown tournament in Basel, Switzerland. And he defeated him in the US Open that year, ending Federer’s streak of five straight titles at Flushing Meadows.

It’s going to be a long day of tennis before this one gets going tonight. Hopefully, the wait will have been worth it.

The Women’s quarterfinals – what they said

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WIMBLEDON – With the help of the Centre Court roof, all four women’s quarterfinals were completed Tuesday.

One was played outdoors on No. 1 Court. Two were played under the roof on Centre Court (one ending with the scream of an overeager British fan).

And the last one began on No. 1 Court, and was completed three hours later under the roof.

The two women’s singles semi-finals, to be played Thursday, are set.

No. 6 Johanna Konta of Great Britain is the highest seed remaining. She will play No. 10 Venus Williams.

quarterfinals

The other semifinal will feature 2015 finalist Garbiñe Muguruza, seeded No. 14 against the fairy tale of this fortnight, Slovakia’s unseeded Magdalena Rybarikova.

Here is what they said.

[6] Johanna Konta (GBR) def. [2] Simona Halep (ROU) 67 (2) 76 (5) 64

Konta: “I guess to be in the semifinals of my home Slam, and to do that in front of a full Centre Court, I mean, it’s pretty, pretty special. I think the level of tennis that both of us played today, it was just a tremendous match. … I feel very happy with how I was able to maintain my level throughout the whole match, and really just tried to stick very closely to how I felt I wanted to play out there, and did that kind of through the thick and thin.”

Halep: “I think was a great tennis. Both of us played a good level. I was very close, again. In the tiebreak maybe I could serve better and stronger a little bit. Then in the third set, the serve game that I lost was a little bit tough to still believe that I can break her because she was serving pretty well. … I think everything was okay. Many positives from this match. And she played really well, so she deserves to win.”

[10] Venus Williams (USA) def. [13] Jelena Ostapenko (LAT)

quarterfinals

Williams:  “I know she had to be feeling confident. She played a great match. Not a lot of errors. I never played her. Watched her. Didn’t really know what to expect. The grass, of course, changes the game. So just a lot of factors. I was really happy to come out on top. … ”

Ostapenko: “She was playing good today. She was serving well. I think I didn’t start the match very well. I was missing a little bit. But, yeah, she was serving really well. It was very tough to break. Because of that I had more pressure because I had to keep my serve. … It was also a good match today for me. … I had kind of, like, some pressure because, as I said, she was serving really well today. She started the match good. She made a lot of aces. But, yeah, I was not, like, feeling nervous. I just couldn’t really play my best today.”

[14] Garbiñe Muguruza (ESP) def. [7] Svetlana Kuznetsova (RUS) 63 64

Muguruza: “I’m very happy and very pleased also with this match, because obviously Kuznetsova is a very tough opponent. We all know she has been and is a great player. I managed to play a good level during all the match. I earned the victory. … Before I was more emotional. You know, I was showing more emotions on the court. Now I’m trying to handle it better. I think that’s experience. Like I said before, the year I made final here, I felt like I was a completely different player. Now I maybe feel more solid mentally, going out there knowing what to do. I think it’s with experience and the years.”

Kuznetsova:  “I think in the start I had some options on her serve. I had love-30, 15-40, couldn’t turn it around. Then I just lost silly break, quite fast one, the first set. Then it was again everything even. Second break in the second set, it’s pretty simple. But these small moments, small chances really matters a lot. I think Garbiñe recovered very good today. She defend very good.”

[PR] Magdalena Rybarikova (SVK) def. [24] Coco Vandeweghe (USA) 63 63

Rybarikova: ” I just recently played ITFs in Surbiton. I was thinking that I was nervous more there than today. I have no idea how come I was that calm. Obviously I was nervous, but I was not like I would shake. Sometimes I can get really nervous and really tight. But this match I was quite positive. I was saying to myself, if I’m not going to make this serve, I still can break her because I had a lot of chances before so I can still make. If not, then I have third set. I was still up. So you still have to believe. Somehow I was not nervous. But I don’t understand it quite well, but that happened. … Always some player who surprise. Now I was lucky to be me. Yeah, I’m really grateful for that.”

Vandeweghe: “That’s why Grand Slams are the hardest tournaments. They’re over two weeks and you have to play well for two weeks. … I think (Rybarikova is) playing the best tennis of her career right now. She’s won a lot of tournaments. And she’s playing really well. She’s in the semifinals.”

Can Coco Cash in at Wimby this year?

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WIMBLEDON – If Coco Vandeweghe makes a deep run at this year’s Wimbledon, it’s going to be déjà vu all over again with the British press (and others).

A year ago, when Canadian Milos Raonic had John McEnroe by his side for the big grass-court event, every successful foray to the net was met with a comment along the lines of, “the addition of John McEnroe to Raonic’s team is really paying dividends, as the Canadian is moving forward with much more authority”.

You can imagine how much of it there was when Raonic beat Roger Federer in the semis and made it to his first major final.

Of course, there was little mention that Raonic had been playing just as aggressively at the beginning of the year during a successful Australian swing – with McEnroe nowhere in sight.

For this Wimbledon, Vandeweghe has 1987 Wimbledon champion Pat Cash as part of her team.

Cash was a relentless serve-volleyer in his time, when it was a lot more common. And as long as Vandeweghe is in the event, those same types of comments will prevail. Except, just as with Raonic, it’s not actually true. 

Always a net-rusher

Vandeweghe has always been one of the rare players on the WTA Tour not only willing to go to the net, but not above throwing in the serve and volley on a regular basis.

CocoWhen you can regularly serve into the 190 km/hour range, as she can, and you have a volley like the 24-year-old American does, it’s a no-brainer.

It was pointed out to Vandeweghe after her third-round win over Alison Riske that she had serve-and-volleyed on more than 10 per cent of her points on serve (and that she was 16-for-17). She is one of only five women to meet that minimum threshold.

The expected answer, no doubt, was that it was the “Pat Cash effect”. But Vandeweghe, as brash as she can be on court, also is an astute analyst of the game off-court. And she explained why – no Cash involved.

“It’s a combination of who I’m playing. I think the round before against Tatjana (Maria) was – she slices a lot more because she has a one-handed backhand and floats. … In essence, I have to do that,” she said. “I think if I stayed back, maybe the floater, she would feel more comfortable in getting the ball into play and everything like that. My idea was I’m going to take it out of the air so she can’t feel like she can just chip it back and get into play and play from the ground.”

Caro next for Coco

The American is into the second week at Wimbledon for the third consecutive year (the first two without Cash, it should be noted).

She made the quarterfinals in 2015, losing to Maria Sharapova in three sets. Last year, she lost to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-3, 6-3 on Manic Monday, in the round of 16.

This year, she plays Caroline Wozniacki, the No. 5 seed.

Wozniacki has made it to the round of 16 five times in he career at Wimbledon. But she has never crashed through that glass ceiling and made it to the last eight. She is 2-0 against Vandeweghe.

Maybe, at this stage of the tournament, is where the “super-coach” effect can kick in for Cash and Coco.

Coco

“I mean, he’s present at all my practices, all my matches. He’s made a commitment to the working team. So I think a pretty big impact,” she said of Cash.

Vandeweghe had her “championship hit” with Riske on Court 14 last Saturday. Unless your name is Federer or Murray, to name two, sometimes you’ll only get one chance to hit on the actual match courts before the tournament begins.

Predominantly white clothing, of course.

As sometimes happens, the two ended up meeting in the third round.

Vandeweghe didn’t come forward as much as she had in her match against Tatjana Maria. And she let up a bit once she was up a break and 4-0 (Riske fought back to 4-4). But she got the job done in straight sets in the end.

Quiet presence

Cash hardly said a word in the half hour Tennis.Life observed. That’s actually true more often than not of the “supercoaches”; McEnroe being a notable exception. They stand there. They lean well. And they feed tennis balls. It seems to be so much about aura and presence.

So it’s hard to know what effect he has had so far.

Here’s what Vandeweghe said about it, when asked in press.

“Well, he’s introduced me to a lot of ’80s rock bands, which before I wasn’t quite familiar with. I keep having to remind him I was born in ’91. But other than that, I mean, he’s on top of me about mentally staying with it and everything like that, and it’s a constant harping on that one,” she said. “Come forward and definitely put my presence out there. I think he said that a bunch – just, ‘Your presence can sometimes get you through difficult situations.’ So I think that goes along with mentality.”

80s guy meets millennial gal

Vandeweghe said that despite the generation gap, Cash has a similar demeanor.

Cash won his Wimbledon title 30 years ago. You’d never know he’s a grandfather by looking at his quads of steel. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

He’s pretty ruthless in the fact of how he manages the time on court, how the mentality is supposed to be out there. I think I kind of demand the same. I think we’re very similar in that regard. That’s kind of what’s pushed me in the tennis department, is kind of matching him on that,” she said.

As it happens, Cash had actually be in serious discussions with Raonic to be his grass guru this year. But after that didn’t work out, Cash ended up with Vandeweghe and Raonic is working with retired doubles star Mark Knowles. Vandeweghe, Raonic and Knowles all have the same agent at CAA.

He has done a lot of television work in recent years. But Cash (like McEnroe) has done very little coaching work. 

It’s hard to know why these two haven’t been more in demand. But if Vandeweghe does something she is fully capable of and has long been expected to do at Wimbledon, he’ll be hailed as a genius.

Coaching shuffle just in time for the grass

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American Coco Vandeweghe lost in the first round of singles, women’s doubles and mixed doubles at the French Open.

The obvious solution: fire the coach.

Craig Kardon is done with Vandeweghe, as reported by Jon Wertheim. But it took no time at all before he was picked up by another American, Donald Young, for the grass-court season.

Young and Taylor Townsend are coach by Young’s parents, Donald Sr. and Ilona. But it’s a good sign that they’re looking to add extra expertise.

ALSO READ: A lot of new coaching alliances in 2017

Vandeweghe’s next move is an intriguing one: she has hired 1987 Wimbledon champion Pat Cash, an arrangement we’re told is scheduled to last at least through the US Open.

Cash looks set up to be the John McEnroe of this year’s Wimbledon: a former champion, a television pundit, someone the British tennis media will be all over and – of course – will get outsized credit if Vandeweghe does anything of note at the Championships.

We’re told that Cash had been in negotiations with Milos Raonic for the grass-court swing. But that didn’t pan out. Instead, we’re told Raonic has added Mark Knowles. That hasn’t yet been confirmed by Raonic, though.

Knowles, 45, reached the top 100 in singles but is best known for his doubles exploits. He won 55 career titles; interestingly, he never won Wimbledon although he did win the other three majors. He also won the Queen’s Club title twice with Canadian Daniel Nestor.

Knowles, seen here at Wimbledon in 2012 when he was working with Mardy Fish, may be working with Milos Raonic this year. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Raonic parted ways with Richard Krajicek a few weeks ago.

Wawrinka also makes an add

In another grass-court move, French Open finalist Stan Wawrinka has added the experienced Paul Annacone for the grass-court season.

Annacone has worked with a couple of Wimbledon multi-champions in Pete Sampras and Roger Federer (seen here with Annacone in Montreal in 2011) (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Annacone, who has coached both Roger Federer and Pete Sampras, was a relentless serve-volleyer-chip-charger during a career that saw him get to No. 12 in singles and No. 3 in doubles. He did win the Australian Open doubles back in 1985, when it was on grass.

A year ago, Wawrinka added Krajicek during the grass season, for similar reasons. It is the only Slam the Swiss has yet to win.

He was a quarter-finalist in 2014 and 2015, but lost in the second round to Juan Martin del Potro last year in a tough draw for both.

Fed Cup weekend – Preview

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There are a lot of big names missing this weekend (why should the women be any different than the men, when it comes down to it). But the Fed Cup weekend still will have good tennis on offer.

No. 2 France, No. 3 Germany and No. 4 Netherlands all were eliminated in the first round. So the top-ranked Czechs (without any of the players who earned their country that top rank) are the only seeded squad left among the four.

Unfortunately, the ITF’s Davis Cup/Fed Cup live stream service went dark at the end of 2016, just as the WTA Tour’s service did. The contract with Perform expired, an ITF spokesperson told Tennis.Life, and they haven’t managed to get a replacement up yet. The one-time $60 (US) annual payment entitled viewers to all the Davis Cup World Group and playoff ties, and nearly all of the Fed Cup World Group I and II. It was a great service. Unfortunately now, to see these matches, it’s a scramble. In Canada, for example, the Canada-Kazakhstan tie isn’t even being shown on Sportsnet, the network that owns the Davis Cup/Fed Cup broadcast rights. They are airing it on their streaming service.

The live scoring page is here.

World Group I semifinals

Belarus (1) vs. Switzerland (1)
Venue: Chizhovka Arena, Minsk, Belarus
Surface: Hard, Indoor
Start times: 6 a.m. EDT (Saturday); 5 a.m. EDT (Sunday)

Here are the nominations. Click on them to access the Fed Cup page with all the information you’ll need.

Missing for Belarus, not unexpectedly given she hasn’t yet returned from maternity leave, is Victoria Azarenka. But Azarenka is on hand to cheer on her teammates this weekend in Minsk.

Olga Govortsova, a veteran, has to be riding a wave of confidence after winning the $80,000 ITF event in Florida last week. She didn’t get the call, though. Aryna Sabalenka, 18, will play No. 2 singles on Saturday.

USA (1) vs. [1] CZE (1)
Venue: Saddlebrook Resort, Florida, USA
Surface: Clay, Outdoor
Start times: Noon EDT (Saturday); 11 a.m. EDT (Sunday)

Here are the nominations. Click on them to access the Fed Cup page with all the information you’ll need.

Missing for the U.S.: Venus and Serena Williams, Madison Keys
Missing for the Czechs: Petra Kvitova, Karolina Pliskova, Barbora Strycova and Lucie Hradecka – the entire squad that defeated the French to win the Fed Cup last fall.

Marketa Vondrousova, the 17-year-old who won her first WTA Tour title in Biel, Switzerland last week, was tapped to play No. 2 singles – at least on Saturday. She’s making her Fed Cup debut.

The Americans, even without the big guns, appear to be a close-knit team – all the fun they’re having, chronicled by the USTA on its social media channels, makes them look like a model of togetherness in the context of modern women’s tennis.

World Group I Playoffs

[1] France (2) vs. Spain (0)
Halle André Vacheresse
Roanne, France
Indoor clay

France: Kristina Mladenovic, Alizé Cornet, Pauline Parmentier, Amandine Hesse (Missing: Caroline Garcia, Océane Dodin. Read this for more)

Spain: Sara Sorribes Tormo, Silvia Soler Espinosa, Olga Saez Larra, Maria José Martínez Sánchez (Missing: Garbiñe Muguruza, Carlá Suárez Navaro, Lara Arruabarrena)

[2] Russia (1) vs. Belgium (1) 
Small Sports Arena “Luzhniki”
Moscow, Russia
Indoor clay

Russia: Elena Vesnina, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Daria Kasatkina, Anna Blinkova

Belgium: Elise Mertens, Maryna Zanevska (A Polish player, newly Belgian), Alison Van Uytvanck, An-Sophie Mestach (Missing: Kirsten Flipkens)

[3] Germany (2) vs. Ukraine (0)
Porsche Arena
Stuttgart, Germany
Indoor clay

The tie will be played at the Porsche Arena, where in theory the qualifying for next week’s WTA Tour Premier event should be going on. At least the players involved in both will get used to the stadium court. The first round of Stuttgart qualifying will take place on the two supplementary courts next door in the Hanns-Martin Schleyer-Halle. Eight matches per court, per day. The same thing occurred when Germany played Serbia in a Fed Cup playoff tie in 2013.

Fed Cup

Germany: Angelique Kerber, Laura Siegemund, Julia Goerges, Karina Witthoeft (Missing: Andrea Petkovic, Annika Beck)

Ukraine: Elina Svitolina, Lesia Tsurenko, Olga Savchuk, Nadiia Kichenok

[4] Netherlands (1) vs. Slovakia (1)
AEGON Arena
Bratislava, Slovakia
Indoor clay

Netherlands: Kiki Bertens, Richel Hogenkamp, Cindy Burger, Arantxa Rus (Missing: Michaella Krajicek)

Slovakia: Kristina Kucova, Jana Cepelova, Rebecca Sramkova, Daniela Hantuchova (Missing: Dominika Cibulkova)

World Group II Playoffs

[1] Italy (2) vs. Chinese Taipei (0)
Circolo Tennis Barletta
Barletta, Italy
Outdoor clay

Italy: Sara Errani, Jasmine Paolini, Martina Trevisan, Camilla Rosatello (Missing: Roberta Vinci, Camila Giorgi, Francesca Schiavone)

Chinese Taipei: Ya-Hsuan Lee, Chieh-Yu Hsu, Chia-Jung Chuang , Ching-Wen Hsu (Missing: Yung-Jan Chan, Hao-Ching Chan, Hsieh Su-Wei)

[2] Romania (1) vs. Great Britain (1)
Tenis Club IDU
Constanta, Romania
Outdoor clay

Constanta, on the Black Sea, is Simona Halep’s hometown. The start time for Saturday’s matches was pushed back an hour, announced Friday, because of tough weather in the area. (At 5 a.m. Saturday there, the temperature was 2C (minus-3 with the wind chill. Brrr.)

Romania: Simona Halep, Irina-Camelia Begu, Sorana Cirstea, Monica Niculescu

Great Britain: Johanna Konta, Heather Watson, Laura Robson, Jocelyn Rae (Missing: Naomi Broady)

[3] Australia (2) vs. Serbia (0)
Kristalna Dvorana Sports Hall
Zrenjanin, Serbia
Indoor hard

Australia: Daria Gavrilova, Ashleigh Barty, Destanee Aiava, Casey Dellacqua (Missing: Samantha Stosur)

Serbia: Aleksandra Krunic, Nina Stojanovic, Ivana Jorovic, Dejana Radanaovic (Missing: Jelena Jankovic)

[4] Canada (1) vs. Kazakhstan (1)
Uniprix Stadium
Montreal, Quebec
Indoor hard

Canada: Françoise Abanda, Bianca Andreescu, Katherine Sebov, Gabriela Dabrowski (Missing: Genie Bouchard, Aleksandra Wozniak)

Kazakhstan: Yulia Putintseva, Yaroslava Shvedova, Galina Voskoboeva, Kamila Kerimbayeva.

 

Also going on this week are the Group II Europe/Africa playoffs, in Siauliai, Lithuania.