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April 15, 2009 11:31 AM
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By Steve Pratt

Playing smoothly off the ground and relying on her big serve to get her out of some tight spots, CoCo Vandeweghe became the first American girl to win the US Open junior title since 1995, with a 7-6 (3), 6-1 win over Venezuela’s Gabriela Paz on Sunday.

It was the first ITF junior tournament final win of any kind for the 16-year-old from Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., in San Diego County, who turned professional earlier this year.

“I’m like on cloud nine right now,” said Vandeweghe, the niece of former NBA player Kiki Vandeweghe and a native New Yorker, whose win was the first for an American girl here since Tara Snyder won 13 years ago. “This is my first junior tournament win in the ITF, and to do it at the US Open is an even greater achievement for me. So I'm just really happy right now.”

Both Vandeweghe and Paz accepted their trophies in Arthur Ashe Stadium before the resumption of the Rafael Nadal-Andy Murray men’s semifinal, and both planned to stick around for the Serena Williams-Jelena Jankovic final later in the evening.

It was an incredible two-week run for Vandeweghe, who managed four games off the former No. 1 player in the world Jankovic in the first round of the main draw. She has the USTA to thank for her Open experience, as she took advantage of the wild cards given to her for the women’s and junior tournaments.

Just playing Jankovic on Ashe Stadium gave Vandeweghe a needed boost of confidence that propelled her through the week of junior play. She did not drop a set in her six wins.

“I was really confident, even in the beginning of the tournament,” she said. “Starting out, I had a rocky first match, but then as it went on, I got better and better, and my serves got better and better. It kind of just kept rolling for me.”

Playing in just her third Grand Slam tournament, Vandeweghe got an early break to lead 4-2 in the first set but quickly lost her service game before breaking right back for a 5-3 lead and a chance to serve for the set.

But Paz broke right back to even the match. “My serve got me in some trouble, and it also got me out of others,” Vandeweghe said. “Like in the first set, when I broke the first time, she broke right back. I wasn't serving too well. I had too many double faults (five for the match). Then in the second set, I kind of got my serve back going in, especially my first serves, and I started being a little bit more aggressive with my second.”

Vandeweghe broke Paz at love to open the second set, and it was all downhill for the unseeded Paz from there. “I never expected to get into the finals,” she said. “I really wanted to, but I just went match by match focusing, I think, and point by point. Just living in the moment. I think that's what got me here.”

Vandeweghe ripped a Paz second serve for a return winner on match point and then looked over to her large contingent of family and friends before reaching the net to shake Paz’ hands.

Paz is currently ranked in the low 400s and plans to compete on the USTA Pro Circuit. She is training at the Extreme Tennis Academy in Hollywood, Fla., and coached by Diego Dominguez.

Vandeweghe has been coached by Lindsay Davenport’s former coach, Robert Van’t Hof, and Southern Californian coach, Eric Amend, made the trip with her to the Open. According to one source, the arrangement isn’t permanent, and Vandeweghe hasn’t decided whom she will continue working with. She said she spoke to Davenport before she left after losing in doubles and had not spoken with Van’t Hof. “We keep missing each other,” she said. “But I have all his voicemails still.”

Vandeweghe was asked after her match what she would say to someone who predicted she would be sitting with the winner’s trophy just two weeks ago. “I don't know. I'd probably say what I said when I found out I was playing Jankovic. ‘You got to be kidding me. You're joking, right?’”