Last year, this same week, I interviewed Swiss tennis star Belinda Bencic who was competing in the Oracle Challenge Series at Rice University.
Bencic was coming off a serious injury and her ranking had fallen outside the Top 50. I asked Bencic 10 questions, some serious, some silly, and boom — she had her best year ever on the tennis tour in 2019, winning three tournaments, making her first Grand Slam semifinal, returning to the Top 10 for the first time since 2016 and qualifying for the year-end Women’s Tennis Association Finals.
I don't see a coincidence.
So, this week, I sat down with CoCo Vandeweghe, my favorite American player, another former Top 10 star coming off an injury, at the Oracle Challenger Series currently underway at Rice. Vandeweghe’s ranking has fallen outside the Top 300. She plays next against Anhelina Kalinina from Ukraine (no quid pro quo here) in third-round action.
Here are 10 questions with CoCo and I totally expect her back in the Top 10 where she belongs in 2020. It won't be a coincidence.
CultureMap: Your grandmother (Colleen Kay Hutchins) was Miss America in 1952. Have you ever thought about wearing her tiara during a U.S. Open match, just to freak out your opponent?
CoCo Vandeweghe: That’s a funny story. Her tiara was stolen from an apartment in New York when she was Miss America, right out of a safe. So we don’t have her tiara.
They didn’t give her a replacement, this was back in the ’50s. We kept the trophy, which we gave back to the organization as memorabilia when she passed away (in 2010).
CM: Tennis players have to stay in shape, but what do you dive into on a cheat day?
CV: My birthday is coming up (December 6). I will be having steak, baked potato, asparagus, and chocolate cake. That’s my menu for my birthday, and that’s a cheat day. I will have butter on the baked potato— the full nine yards. I don’t care, calories don’t count on your birthday.
CM: Do you wear new sneakers every match?
CV: I wear new sneakers at the start of a tournament. This is my last tournament of the year, so I brought two pairs with me to Houston.
CM: You’ve been known to break a few rackets during a match. Is there an art to smashing a tennis racket? And is it easier to break a racket when you got it for free?
CV: I’ve smashed rackets when I was paying for my rackets, now that I’m not paying for them, and even when I’m getting fined for smashing them. If you hit it flat, there’s a good chance that it won’t break. If you hit it on its head, it will bounce straight back to you. If you hit it on its edge, like you’re hammering something, there’s a better chance that it will break.
Just don’t hit it on your shoe, that really hurts.
CM: Have you ever opened your eyes in the morning on tour and had no idea what city you’re in?
CV: Many times, even at my own house, I’ll wake up, and where am I? If it’s jet lag time and it’s super dark, if I see a clock, I know I’m in a hotel. If I don’t see a clock, I know I’m in my house.
CM: When I see tennis players signing autographs after a match, it looks like they’re just scribbling their initials. Let’s see your autograph. [She takes a pen and writes “CoCo.”] That’s it? Why not your full name?
CV: I don’t give my last name because then you could forge it and put it on a check and take my money. Seriously, I don’t put my last name for that very reason.
CM: You participated in many sports, including wrestling (against boys), when you were younger. Who’s your favorite WWE superstar?
CV: The one I remember most from growing up is Stone Cold Steve Austin. He’s a Hall of Famer.
CM: Do you ever get genuinely mad at an opponent during a match, and do you say something to them?
CV: Of course I do, but I’ve only said something to an opponent twice. Something they were doing was just too outlandish, and I felt it was unsportsmanlike. Like yelling ‘Come on!’ after I double faulted. Or if they hit a let cord winner, and they were in my face about it.
I don’t mind if you beat me, fine, but there’s a place and a purpose for everything.
CM: Maria Sharapova once said that she has no friends on the tennis tour, it’s just too competitive. Do you have friends in tennis?
CV: Yes, Bethanie [Mattek-Sands], Shelby Rogers, Ash Barty, Allie Riske, others. I was just in the locker with Bethany and we were planning my birthday extravaganza, which we do every year. It would be so lonely without friends on the tour, but these players are my friends outside of tennis, too.