Put an American teenager in Moscow and while she can value its culture and thrill to the grandeur of the Kremlin, she still is going to represent teenage America.
SCOTT LINNETT / U-T file photo
At 16, Coco Vandeweghe has the size and the serve but not the experience to win.
“They didn't have any hamburgers,” said Coco Vandeweghe. “I would have been all over them if they had had hamburgers on the menu. They had spaghetti and sandwiches, stuff like that. That's mostly what I ate. That's what I eat at home.”
Vandeweghe, 16, has returned home to Rancho Santa Fe after being selected by the U.S. Tennis Association to accompany the U.S. Fed Cup team to Moscow for a recent semifinal tie, won by the host country 3-2. Vandeweghe did not play. Her role was as a “future Fed Cup player,” according to a USTA spokesman.
“It was very memorable,” Vandeweghe said. “I was excited to go, especially representing my country.”
In Moscow, Vandeweghe practiced with U.S. team members Vania King, Ahsha Rolle and Liezel Huber. There were two two-hour practices daily before the match began, which did not give Vandeweghe much time to do the things a tourist would, but she and her teammates were taken on a tour of the Kremlin.
“I didn't think it would be as grand as it is,” she said. “You see it on a postcard. That's really what it looks like – as it does on a postcard.”
Other than visiting the Kremlin – yes, Vandeweghe said, she saw Lenin's tomb – the U.S. players largely limited themselves to their Moscow hotel. “What we did was mostly eat, sleep and hang out in our rooms,” Vandeweghe said.
One day, Vandeweghe, should she continue to progress with her tennis, could have a more active role on a U.S. team. There have been Americans younger than she who have become factors in the women's game. Tracy Austin, Jennifer Capriati, Andrea Jaeger and Kathy Rinaldi were tournament champions on the WTA Tour at 14. Most notably, Maureen Connolly Brinker of San Diego captured nine major championships as a teenager in the 1950s, including the U.S. Open at 16 years, 11 months.
As Vandeweghe's mother, Tauna, recognized, however, those players' introduction to tennis came when they were just out of rompers. Vandeweghe did not begin playing until she was 11.
“I would put her in sports to evolve her skills for tennis,” said Tauna Vandeweghe. “I also thought the pressure they put on young tennis players was way too hard. She is getting to the stage now that Tracy Austin was at 11.”
At 16 – she won't be 17 until December – Vandeweghe is 6 feet 1 and possessed of a serve that has few equals in the women's game. Her ambition, as she defines it, is to become the No. 1-ranked player in the world. “I want to give back to all the people who are helping me,” she said.
Her bloodlines could hardly be more athletic. Her mother, who is 6-3, was a member of U.S. Olympic teams in two sports: swimming (as a backstroker) in 1976 and volleyball in '84. Tauna Vandeweghe's mother, the former Colleen Kay Hutchins, a sister of Mel Hutchins, an All-America basketball player at Utah who would become an NBA Rookie of the Year, married Ernie Vandeweghe, who had a long run with the New York Knicks.
“That's how she met my father,” said Tauna Vandeweghe. “They (Hutchins and Ernie Vandeweghe) were playing each other in the pros, and she threw the ball up for the tipoff.”
For Coco Vandeweghe to have such distinguished genes has its disadvantages, as her mother views it. “There's always somebody who has done something better,” Tauna Vandeweghe said. But Coco said she does not believe that being one of the Vandeweghes has put her under added pressure.
Tennis, it seems, makes up a good deal of her life. As a sophomore, she withdrew from La Costa Canyon High when the school would not approve her missing as much time as her tennis travels required. She currently is being home-schooled. Five times a week, she goes to Newport Beach so she can be counseled by Robert Van't Hof, the teaching pro credited with shaping Lindsay Davenport's game.
It was Davenport who directed Vandeweghe to Van't Hof after hitting with her at this year's WTA event in Miami. The USTA, meantime, is planning to appoint a coach to travel with Vandeweghe.
“He will be monitoring her progress and reporting back to Robert,” said the player's mother. “First and foremost, he is going to have a very tempered attitude, because Coco is my little girl. She's a big, strong athlete, but she is still my little girl. I want her taken care of.”
Vandeweghe further regularly visits Velocity, a Carlsbad fitness center. “I think I'm in better shape than I've ever been, ever,” she said.
She has everything, it would seem. But she still couldn't order a hamburger in Moscow.