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:
Serena: In solidifying her world No. 4 ranking, she announced, "I've never felt this fit, this determined and this happy to play. I feel like I could even be more fit, and that's what I'm striving for. It's almost like all that time off helped my knees, prolonged my career. I'm so excited about getting back to London for the Olympics."
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.
Vandeweghe: It's likely that few of the fans in attendance, or those watching on Tennis Channel and ESPN2, were aware of the Southern Californian's controlled power. She cranked out the two fastest serves of the tournament (121 and 120 mph) and her groundstrokes, particularly the forehand, were devastatingly good. Her coach, Jan-Michael Gambill (who was absent due to a World TeamTennis commitment), has been trying to get her into an 8-to-10 point mentality and show a bit more patience, but when this girl gets a chance to set her feet and finish, that point is over.
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."
Marion Bartoli: I wouldn't be surprised if she's a bit out of sorts with the Olympics coming up and the French team moving on (absurdly) without her. She was way off her game in a 6-3, 6-2 loss in the quarters to Wickmayer. But she did get a chance to hit with one of her idols, Pete Sampras, and it seems she fended off Serena in the process. In a tweet passed along by Matt Cronin, WTA executive Kevin Fischer quoted Bartoli telling Williams on the practice court, "Serena, for once, let me beat you in something. I'm hitting with him."
Sorana Cirstea: The Romanian has had some excellent results this year, including wins over Sam Stosur at the Australian Open and Li Na at Wimbledon, both in straight sets. But she took a woeful strategy onto the court against Serena in the semifinals, refusing to do anything but obliterate each ball toward the corners. It was just one blindingly misfired rocket after another, and the match unfolded 6-1, 6-2 before a crowd gone numb. She couldn't have shown less finesse if she were playing with an anvil.
Sloane Stephens: Serena gave her plenty of props, saying "I love Sloane's game; her strokes are more smooth than a lot of players -- definitely more than mine." But she was gone on Monday after a first-round loss to Heather Watson. Flustered and upset with herself, Stephens seemed powerless to reverse the tide, but then again, she's always had trouble with Watson, losing their previous encounters in this year's Estoril event (clay) and the 2010 Toronto tournament (hardcourts).
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."