By Matt Cronin, special to EmiratesUSOpenSeries.com
Stanford, Calif. -- U.S. tennis history is chock full of big, successful servers, from Pancho Gonzalez, to Stan Smith, to Pam Shriver, to Pete Sampras, to Lindsay Davenport, to the Williams sisters, to Andy Roddick, to John Isner and now to 20-year-old Coco Vandeweghe, who registered a 120-mph ace on the speed gun in her 6-2, 3-6, 6-2, upset of Yanina Wickmayer at the Bank of the West Classic.
While Vandeweghe's first serve percentage wasn’t where she wanted it to be (47%), she did win 86 percent of her first serves and was clutch when she needed to be.
She looked a little like the woman whom she’ll play in the final, Serena Williams, she of the Wimbledon record 102 aces, who thrashed Sorana Cirstea 6-1, 6-2.
The final between Serena and Vandeweghe will be the first between two American women on U.S. soil since 2004, when the now retired Lindsay Davenport beat Serena in the final of Los Angeles.
No. 120 Vandeweghe says she very excited, but Serena has never lost to an American player younger than she, so it’s clearly a big ask.
"She’s done well and will go out tomorrow and go for the glory and I don’t blame her because I’ll do the same thing," Williams said.
Vandeweghe crushed 12 aces of her 32 winners overall. She hit flat aces down the tee, service winners out wide, and huge heavy kick serves that even the tall Wickmayer couldn’t reach.
"Even when I was there I couldn’t do a lot," Wickmayer said. "She hits pretty hard for girl. Even her second serve bounces high and it’s hard to do anything with it. When I had chances on her serve, she just aced it away."
Vandeweghe’s regular coach, Jan-Michael Gambill, is playing World TeamTennis this weeks so her mother Tauna has the big responsibility. Not only did the crowd hear Tauna loudly encouraging her daughter with "C'mon Coco," after every point, but they got to see her walk on court after the first set. She didn’t offer much advice but did tell Coco
that she had hit a 120 MPH serve.
"I said, well I’ve got big muscles," Vandeweghe said with a laugh.
However, Vandeweghe, who hit a few 118 MPG aces too, hadn’t noticed.
"Sometimes if I feel like I just cracked the crap out of it I definitely look for sure, but I didn’t even look for the 120 – it must not have felt that good."
Serena literally numbs her foes to submission with the consistency of her serving. She has an impossible toss to read as she throws the ball almost in the identical place every time and then uses her wrist to snap down at the last second and give the ball direction.
"I have no idea how I got a big serve," Serena said. "Venus has big serve, mine was consistent, well placed, and I have lot of aces, but I don’t know how I went from that to being dominant."
Vandeweghe’s serve might be easier to read than Serena’s, but she gets tremendous hop off her kick serve, and on occasion she will serve and volley behind it (she went three for three of serve and volley points against Wickmayer).
When she’s serving accurately, the rest of her game tends to come together as she feels more at ease when she trying to dictate off the ground. She is a super aggressive player and rarely pulls back on her shots.
Most importantly, she is serving well in the clutch, which Serena almost always does. When in trouble, she can pull out her heater and count on it, which few other women’s player can do.
"I’ve worked hard on my serve and it’s a big weapon for me," Vandeweghe said, "There are a lot of matches where my serve is going to come through in the clutch. Plus the way I’m playing off the ground it puts pressure on my opponent to make her return of serve that much better."
Vandeweghe and Serena have never played a tour match, but they did face each other in World TeamTennis last summer, which ended in a 5-4 win for Williams. Vandeweghe thought she hung in there.
"The owner of Washington [Kapitals] came up to me and said you always play so well against me, because I beat Azarenka twice when he had her, and I was like dude, you drafted and traded me my first year and I need to give you a little bit of payback," Vandeweghe said.
Serena said that she’ll be more at ease at Stanford as she says when she plays World TeamTennis she feels more pressure because she’s playing for a team. Coco knows she’ll have to serve huge again and find a way into Serena’s service games.
"I have to tailor my game to be able to return an be ready for that big of a serve that you don’t usually se in the women’s game," she said. "But I will be hungry."