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CoCo Vandeweghe finds a ‘weghe’

For anyone who is familiar with professional tennis, on the women’s side especially, the name CoCo Vandeweghe may ring a bell. It may send others into some sort of alarm because of how much they idolize her. I include this reaction because after meeting her in person for the first time ever this week I was one of those people to geek out over her presence. In the past five years, Vandeweghe has been one of the highest-ranked American tennis players in the world, topping off her career record at No. 9 in the world back in 2018. She is not some small name in tennis nor is she any sort of joke, since she has not been back in the top ten for three years now. 

Vandeweghe has faced the issue many tennis players do with how the system works—it does not go easy on those with injuries. The way tennis ranking works is fairly simple: for every match you win in a tournament you receive a preset number of points. Those points are totaled and from there you are ranked. Those with more points are ranked higher than you and vice versa. However, not every tournament you play in gives you the same amount of points. Smaller tournaments only give you a fraction of the points you would receive from winning a grand slam tournament such as Wimbledon. The difference can be anywhere from one thousand points to nearly two thousand points depending on the tournaments in question. 

So in 2019, Vandeweghe faced this challenge about points. To be No. 9 in the world you need to be competing at the highest level and winning to make sure your rate of increase when it comes to points is not less than others. But when injured, you cannot compete and you cannot get more points. This makes entering tournaments harder and getting more points from bigger tournaments even more difficult. In 2019, Vandeweghe had to withdraw from a season of tennis (there are roughly four or three seasons of tennis based on how you measure—either by the number of grand slams or the number of different surfaces) which plummeted her ranking all the way from nine to 636. 

This was a painful drop and the climb back up from an ankle injury is no easy task. But, at the recent Thoreau Tennis Open in Concord, MA, Vandeweghe proved why she was No. 9 and how she was going to get back there. She defeated all but two of her opponents in two set matches (the fastest you can end a match in the WTA) and got her serve into action. 

The serve is the only shot in tennis that you have one hundred percent control over. From the toss to how the ball comes off the racket, you can control all of it, and in tennis, no matter the side, a big serve can mean a lot. With Vandeweghe standing at five feet and 11 inches she has more height than most of the women on tour. That is important because it means she has more angles to approach the ball on her serve and push opponents further back into the court. In singles, this made a huge difference as she could push her opponent back and then beat them with a down-the-line winner. Her game plan was simple and her shots were big. Unlike the other players at the tournament, such as Harmony Tan, who was not generating a ton of power off of her shot but rather placement, Vandeweghe was able to beat people with speed and power that they could not keep up with.

This helped her tremendously in the doubles draw as well, as her partner, Varvara Flink, who is five feet and nine inches tall, also had a tremendously powerful serve. It was textbook doubles serve and poach games. Her power and experience were essential to her final results. The younger players in the tournament have not spent as much time hitting the kind of balls she has had to, nor have they been in tournaments much larger with as much pressure. Vandeweghe was able to float her way into the finals of both the singles and doubles through her sheer power and experience. If anyone could have made tennis look easy during the tournament, it was her.

Vandeweghe concluded the tournament as the winner of both the singles and doubles draw. Hopefully, with this tournament in her back pocket, she can look forward to receiving a spot in the U.S. Open main draw as a wild card. The climb back from recovery is not easy in tennis and most people cannot make it back—an issue Roger Federer now faces. But over the past week, Vandeweghe defeated the odds and proved how much experience can impact the outcome of a match.

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