CoCo Vanedeweghe is still going strong in doubles at the U.S. Open. She spoke with FanSided about the realities of becoming a professional tennis player.
Coco Vanedeweghe was part of the all-American women’s semifinal last year at the U.S. Open, but has struggled with an ankle injury this year as well as illness, losing in the first round against Kristen Flipkens, 6-3, 7-6(3). However, she’s into the women’s doubles quarterfinals, having beaten Andrea Sestini Hlavackova and Barbora Strycova with her partner Ashleigh Barty on Monday, 6-3, 6-3. She’s also the current world No. 25 in singles.
CoCo Vanedeweghe won the doubles title at the Miami Masters event this year, made the doubles final at the Australian and U.S. Open finals in 2016, and won the mixed doubles final at Flushing Meadows that same year.
I’m a singles player, but I play doubles for fun. I’ve been fortunate enough to have success in doubles as well as mixed doubles.
Tennis is an expensive sport to try to break into. Vanedeweghe was refreshingly candid about the realities of financially trying to stay on Tour if you’re just a regular kid.
You’re not on the real Tour, at the start, you’re in the Challenger Tour. My road of getting to where I am was very, very different. I went to a normal high school, I didn’t go to an academy, like some of these other tennis genomes.
When you decide [to become professional], you have no idea of what the heck you’re getting into. It was all a big shock for me. When you turn pro, you think ‘oh, I’m going to be playing at Indian Wells, I’m going to be playing in Miami, I’m going to be playing grand slams instantaneously.’
No one tells you of the Challenger circuit. You go to middle of nowhere places and play in front of four people, and you lose more money than what you make, and you’re struggling to make ends meet. It took me five years to be inside the [top] 100 consistently.
I was losing more money than I was making for five years. No one tells you that.
The American player won the Junior U.S. Open championship at age 16. But rather than follow the academy route, like players such as Maria Sharapova, Vanedeweghe preferred to grow up like an average teenager, emphasizing her school, hanging out with friends, and playing a variety of sports.
I think everyone makes such a big deal about the [International Tennis Federation], and yes, they are important. But it wasn’t that important to me because I had a regular school to go to. So I couldn’t travel around, nor could my family afford for me to go travel around, and I was fortunate to live in California. Tennis is really booming in California, so I didn’t really have to travel.
I never played French Open Junior’s, I played one Wimbledon Junior’s because I was able to get on a USTA funded trip, otherwise I couldn’t afford to do that.
I couldn’t miss that much school.
It’s not an end-all, be-all, to be at an academy or not. I’m a perfect example of that. I had to wait until school was done to practice. I spent my weekends at tournaments. I played basketball until I was 13. I didn’t only play tennis.
With a lot of sports now, they’re putting in so many leagues, where they have to specialize so early. I would have gone crazy if I’d only played tennis from like I don’t know, 8 years old on. I’m so lucky to play so many other sports where I had a social life, where I had friends to play with instead of just solo grinding practice after practice.
The 26 year-old hails from a famous sports family. Her mother, Tauna Vanedeweghe was a 1976 Olympic swimmer. Her maternal grandmother, Colleen Kay Hutchins, was a 1952 Miss America, but perhaps most famous of all, her grandfather was New York Knicks basketball player Ernie Vandeweghe. CoCo played a lot of basketball growing up, and it’s no wonder since it’s very much the family sport. In addition to her famous grandfather, her uncle, Kiki VanDeWeghe is a retired basketball player, who also used to manage the Denver Nuggets and the New Jersey Nets, but now is the Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations for the NBA.
What was it like growing up in such a household?
This was all normal to me. I don’t know anything else.
I was able to shoot baskets at Staples Center before the game, go in the locker room, eat all the ice cream, go where the player’s wives go. This was normal. I didn’t realize how crazy cool and lucky I was to be able to do that. But my grandfather helped build the Staples Center. When he came, everyone loved him, and I was like, ‘that’s just my grandfather.’
They’re just my family members, I don’t see them as a big deal. Just ask them how big of a deal they are and they’ll tell you [laughs].
What was it like growing up having your famous grandfather around?
My grandfather lived with us until he passed away. It was like another dad, which was great. He was teaching me things every day. He taught me how to drive a car.
I had the best of both worlds, I had both my grandparents living with me, raising me, along with my mom. So it was like two sets of parents, I couldn’t get away with anything, but they let me do some crazy things too.
When my mom was mad at me, I could sneak into my grandparents’ room and hide and eat Oreo cookies.
Why tennis, and not other sports?
I played everything growing up. I think that’s what made me such a different kind of tennis player. I played every sport you could think of. As far as why I choose tennis, it was pretty much a bad season with girls on a basketball team and tennis was a solo sport and I said ‘I don’t need this,’ and went and played tennis from then on at 13.
What was a pivotal moment for you in tennis?
When I won Junior U.S. Open, that’s when I decided to become a professional.
I was probably 21, when I was like, ok I’m willing to put in the work of what it is and what it means to be a professional and have those sacrifices of what it takes. To do this day in and day out, and actually make this a job and a career instead of just something that’s fun to do.
16 and 21 were my two pivotal moments.
What tennis players do you admire?
All my favorites are retired. My favorites were Lindsay Davenport, Jennifer Capriati, and Kim Clijsters. Those are the people I like to watch.
You recently participated in the Tie Break Tens—a new format in tennis where games go to 10 points and must be won by tie break only—event at Madison Square Garden. What was that like?
I really loved it. It was so much fun for me to play. It’s an unbelievable venue [Madison Square Garden] to be a part of. I can now say I’ve played at Madison Square Garden.
Would you like to see more tie breaks—like they do at the US Open—instead of winning by two games in the final set?
I’m indifferent to this. I like both, to play out, the mental side of that. And the tie breakers, who’s going to hold out the best. It’s exciting on both ends.
What are your most Inspiring moments?
Making the Olympic team and winning the Fed Cup for the US, this last year. Those were my two biggest good, ‘hard work has paid off most’ moments.
Speaking of Fed Cup (and Davis Cup), a lot of players are upset over the changes to the Davis Cup announced this year. Are you worried about the same happening to the Fed Cup?
I am not a fan. I think it’s a terrible change. I think it ruins the entire premise of Fed Cup and Davis Cup. I loved the aspect of playing home and away ties. I thought it was so much fun. You get to go to places that will never see tennis. For example, when we were in Belarus, there’s not a single WTA or ATP tournament [there]. This is the first time they’re ever seeing their top players play and our top players play in a competition they’re fighting for their lives in. It was an unbelievable experience. And now the ITF is taking all of that away.
Even for us in the States, when we went to Asheville, NC, they’re seeing superstars that they’ll never get the chance to see because there’s no tournaments there. And it builds the grassroots for the USTA. I don’t know how that’s going to still happen when you’re in a neutral location of wherever they’re going to put it. If it’s in Europe, how the heck are we going to get Americans over there? It’s not like it’s that cheap to fly to Europe, and then you gotta to stay in a hotel, which is going to rack up the hotel prices. You’re going to have to be a millionaire to end up going for a Fed Cup tie or a Davis Cup tie.
It’s completely destroying the tradition that’s been going on for hundreds of years. I’m not a fan of it.
None of the players were consulted. It was kind of like we just went for just whatever the suits wanted to go for. That’s also a frustrating part for the players. We’d like to be consulted but we’re not.
The California native is known for her camaraderie on the Tour, her passion for the Fed Cup and is close with several of her Fed Cup teammates.
On Serena Williams
It’s great to have one of the greatest players to play tennis playing again.
I was actually on the same Fedcup team with her when she was coming back from having a baby.
You’re friendly with Madison Keys?
We became friends over Fed Cup. We actually became good friends. And we’ve continued from there.
What is your favorite Grand Slam?
I think Australian Open is one of my favorites. U.S. Open for a different reason. Australian just because it’s the start of the year, the Australians are in their summer, everyone’s having a good time.
The U.S. Open I love because my friends and family can come out and watch. And I love being in the city.
How do you keep well rounded?
I have plenty of family members who do that for me.
Tennis isn’t forever. You have to have a backup plan, especially starting out, injuries happen. You have to position yourself well. And luckily I’ve had people around me to remind of that.
Next for CoCo Vanedeweghe is her doubles quarterfinal match on Tuesday. She is planning to participate in the Asian hard court season in singles after the U.S. Open, despite her ankle issues.