Olympic tennis wasn't a terribly popular subject around the Stanford tournament last week. Players were forced to make a ridiculously quick turnaround from Wimbledon, and the original entry list was hardly recognizable after the withdrawals of Angelique Kerber, Sabine Lisicki, Christina McHale, Varvara Lepchenko and Tamira Paszek, among others.
Credit Serena Williams for fighting through jet-lag and some very restless nights to win the tournament and match her sister, Venus, with 43 lifetime wins on tour. For the first several days, it seemed the Bank of the West event was all about Serena.
By the end of the week, Coco Vandeweghe's inspired performances had given new life to American women's tennis. Before Stanford, Vandeweghe was ranked 120th in the world and critiqued rather harshly in tennis circles, given her questionable court movement and shot selection over the past couple of years. Just 20 years old, she announced her arrival by reaching the final against Serena, and she was serving for the first set before going down 7-5, 6-3.
All of a sudden, Vandeweghe is ranked 69th and the U.S. has nine players in the top 100 (see table). And it was remarkable to consider that as Sunday's final unfolded, this was the first all-U.S. matchup in a WTA tour final on American soil since 2004 (Lindsay Davenport over Serena in Los Angeles). There had been four such matchups in the majors and one in the WTA year-end event (Qatar 2009), but eight years had passed since it occurred on a regular tour stop.
A rundown of the key participants:
When someone asked Serena about the U.S. Open, where she staged epic meltdowns in each of the last two years, she could only smile. "My goal is to not get in an argument if somebody gets me angry," she said. "My goal is to try to stay calm... if I can. If not, I'll go out with a bang."
That broke up the room, Serena included. She was kidding, of course. We think.
Coaches get full exposure with the WTA's allowance of on-court coaching, and Coco got several visits from her mom, Tauna, a great athlete in her day but hardly well-versed in tennis. There wasn't a single reason for her to come onto the court after Coco's first-set dismantling of Yanina Wickmayer in the semifinals, and when she came down to see her daughter after Sunday's first set, she began her pep talk this way, "I'll tell you what... the thing is... is that..."
(Coco was the first to admit that the visits had nothing to do with strategy. Basically, she just enjoyed her mother's company.)
Serena made a point of complimenting Vandeweghe, saying "she has a beautiful game," and telling her so at the net. "I'd never met Serena before," Vandeweghe said. "The thing that impressed me the most is what a great person she is. She said, 'I'm so tired of everyone saying there are no good American players. You're the proof.' That meant a lot to me."
Asked about the state of American women's tennis in general, Serena said, "I think they all have a great shot. I couldn't say which one in particular, because you never really know. It could be anyone at a given time. I think anything is possible."