By Jane Voigt
Key Biscayne, Fla. — American Coco Vandeweghe didn’t become the second woman qualifier to reach the quarterfinals in Miami today, but she did get an invitation.
After their rain-delayed match Serena Williams, the woman who sent Coco home 63 61, asked the big-serving Californian to play doubles. “Listen, you played so well. We’ve got to play doubles somewhere. I’m serious,” Williams said to Vandeweghe at the net.
There was not a smidgen of doubt what Coco would do. “Of course,” she said, her eyes as blue as washed glass, during her post-match interview. “I think I have to get through Venus first. [But] whenever she wants to I will play doubles.”
Coco’s delight is hard to imagine. This was the first time she had faced a reigning world No. 1, and then to be asked to stand alongside her on court … well, that was magical. But as much as Vandeweghe’s excitement made her giddy, Serena seemed just as eager.
“I think we’d make a great team, actually,” Williams told the press. “It would be really fun.”
But how does Coco tiptoe around Serena’s elder sister, Venus?
“I have been trying to just play around and see if I can ever play a tournament when Venus isn’t there and I just have some extra time on my hands to play doubles matches,” Williams explained.
Serena and Coco would make a formidable team. Both serve easily at 110 M.P.H. and can crack them well above that. Serena’s just a bit under six feet and Coco is a good two inches over six feet. That’s complete net coverage.
“She’s improved a great deal,” Serena said about Vandeweghe’s game. “Her focus is so much better. Her movement is good. Her attitude is great. She’s a nice girl. It’s always fun to play with young Americans. It’s so good to see another American doing really well.”
Vandeweghe’s year has been her best. As a wildcard into Indian Wells she made the second round, losing to Petra Kvitova. As a qualifier in Miami, she defeated two seeds: Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (No. 27) and Samantha Stosur (No. 16) in a match that went to the wee hours of Monday morning.
“I’ve been working hard since the off season till now,” Coco began. “One tournament can be, you know, what it takes to put it all together. I think Indian Wells helped, especially playing against Kvitova. I took what she did to me very seriously. We based our work around that match. When I came in here, I just felt super confident.”
Vandeweghe broke with her former coach Jan Michael Gambil in the fall, but remains on good terms. She’s now coached by Marciej Synowka, Agnieszka Radwanska’s former coach. When Marciej came on court between games today, he told her to use her “Coconess.”
“Marciej has three things that characterize me. One, I can always sleep. Two, I’m always hungry. I can eat any time. And, three, I’m always stronger than somebody and I want to prove that I’m stronger. He wanted me to just be myself out there with the ‘Come ons’ and fist pumps.”
Before the rain delay, Vandeweghe leaned on her serve and heavy ground strokes, which pressured Williams. After the rain delay, Serena’s serve improved. Her performance through the end of the second set was her best of the tournament.
“I was really struggling my first two matches,” Serena admitted. “So I just wanted to have a better performance today.”
Vandeweghe leaves Miami with lots of positives. “I mean beating two, top 20 players and going through qualifications and winning those tough matches I think were big steps,” she said.
Vandeweghe is the granddaughter of Colleen Kay Hutchins, Miss America 1952. Her uncle is former pro basketball star Kiki Vandeweghe. In 2008, Coco won the U. S. Open Girls’ Singles title as a wildcard, and without dropping a set. She is currently ranked No. 104.