What a tennis-watching day I had yesterday. I never intended to watch Serena Williams and Caroline Garcia on my phone at a carwash, but I did. And I certainly didn't intend to stay up and watch Sam Stosur play Coco Vandeweghe, yet I did. It's just that--after the first few games--I was oddly drawn to the match. Here were two players--one of them a former U.S. Open champion--going against each other late at night with barely a few spectators to cheer them.
These are two no-nonsense competitors. Stand up, hit the ball, hit it back, hit it again, game over, yes m'am. With Vandeweghe, you have to wonder: Where did it come from and where does it go? She has such a big serve and such a big forehand, and her backhand isn't that shabby. And while, in her face, she still looks about 13, the rest of her has changed. Vandeweghe is more solid and muscular now, and her footwork is a lot better than it was even a year ago. Her volleys have improved, too.
In some ways, Stosur might have thought she was looking in a mirror. They both served big, wanted to keep the points short, and liked to set up volleys off of powerful groundstrokes. And while Vandeweghe's second serve lacks Stosur's signature high kick, it did often go right to Stosur's body, forcing her to back up in a somewhat handcuffed position.
There was no break in the first set until the end, when Vandeweghe got shaky, and Stosur was able to grab the set at 7-5. It was late at night, Stosur is still a big name in tennis, and Coco is Coco, so it wouldn't have surprised me if the Australian star had just cruised through the next set. But here was another change in Vandeweghe--she just let the first set slide. She was able to take the second set 7-5, and in the final set, when Stosur broke her as she served for the match, she let that slide, too. Vandeweghe broke Stosur right back, and she hung in without giving up any of the aggression that had characterized her play throughout the match.
And then, before you could say "Is the Waffle House still open?" Vandeweghe had advanced to the 4th round. Her 5-7, 7-5, 7-5 win included 41 winners. And while both players made a lot of errors, it was Stosur who wound up making too many. Vandeweghe took it to Stosur, and--while she had moments of shakiness and carelessness--she never let up.
Vandeweghe has now beaten Marina Erakovic, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Sam Stosur. Next up? World number 1 and defending champion Serena Williams.