Coco Vandeweghe and Bethanie Mattek-Sands were doubles partners for Team USA at the Olympic Games Rio 2016. They’re friends as well as teammates.
“I know what it means to her to play for her country,” says Vandeweghe. “Together, we feed off each other so well.”
Playing for the United States always has been important for Vandeweghe. It’s the reason she loves being on American teams in the Fed Cup.
So, when the recent Fed Cup semifinal tie between Team USA and the Czech Republic in Wesley Chapel, Florida, came down to the doubles match between Vandeweghe and Mattek-Sands against Katerina Siniakova-Kristyna Pliskova, the two Americans were pumped for the opportunity.
With Team USA and the Czechs tied 2-2 after four singles matches, the winner of the doubles match would advance to the Fed Cup final in November. The stage was set against the Czechs, who have won the last three Fed Cup titles.
“You go out there and you hear the crowd just chanting ‘USA!’ and I told her, I said, ‘This is what we dream about,’” said Vandeweghe. “‘This is what we play for, this moment right here, to play for our country and to win this match for Team USA.’”
The American duo responded, downing the Czechs 6-2, 6-3 to put Team USA into the Fed Cup final for the first time in seven years. The victory gives the United States — which has won a record 17 Fed Cup titles — a chance to win its first since 2000.
Vandeweghe, 25, came up big in the tie, winning both her singles matches and the doubles in the 3-2 U.S. victory. She has been playing very good tennis this year and last. She reached the Australian Open semifinals in January, losing to Venus Williams, and is 20th in the WTA rankings.
She said playing in front of the enthusiastic fans in Florida gave her a boost.
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“I feed off of the crowd’s energy,” she said. “It really amplifies my game play and my game style. That’s kind of what I relish. I relish people experiencing a thrill with me or pushing me through a hard match. The crowd can be game-changers. That’s what’s amazing these last two ties, they have really pushed me through some difficult situations.”
In February, Vandeweghe won two singles matches in the Americans’ 3-0 quarterfinal win over Germany in Hawaii. On Day 1 of the semifinal tie, Vandeweghe beat Marketa Vondrousova in straight sets before Siniakova downed Shelby Rogers. Vandeweghe came back the next day to beat Siniakova 6-4, 6-0 to give Team USA a 2-1 lead, but the Czechs evened the score with Vondrousova’s win over Lauren Davis, 6-2, 7-5. Vandeweghe and Mattek-Sands then sent the Americans to a win and a date with Belarus in the final at a site still to be determined.
“Coco, she just loves playing Fed Cup,” said U.S. first-year captain Kathy Rinaldi. “She told me from day one that it’s her goal, she wants to win a Fed Cup title, and as you can see, she really enjoys the atmosphere. She rises to the occasion, she gets fired up for it and the fans love it, too, because they see somebody who really takes the Fed Cup and playing for their country to heart.”
Though Vandeweghe has been the headliner over the last two ties, both she and Rinaldi point to the culture among the women on the U.S. team for the foundation of this American run toward a possible 18th Fed Cup trophy. It’s been an ultimate team effort.
“Everyone’s involved,” Rinaldi said. “Even the players who aren’t playing, their support has been extremely important. It’s important for us all to come together and win the title for the U.S.”
Rinaldi said the women have formed strong friendships off the court, which is leading to a great mindset.
“They’re a very close-knit group of players and so when you bring them all together, we work really hard in the week of training leading up to the matches, but we also have a lot of fun,” she said. “We really enjoy our times together. It’s a special week.”
Vandeweghe said the team has bonded with trips to the golf course, roller-coaster rides and good times, just hanging out with one another. Yet they’ve stayed focused on getting past each hurdle to the Fed Cup final.
“It’s been a testament to Kathy’s captaincy, how she runs it,” said Vandeweghe. “Players have been willing to put their egos aside and work as a team. Even players who haven’t been selected to play that weekend have boosted their teammates.
“When you’re not playing, you have the respect of not only your captain but your teammates,” she said. “You earned your spot here, so we’re all here together to achieve one goal and one dream and that’s really a testament to Kathy.”
Doug Williams covered three Olympic Games for two Southern California newspapers and was the Olympic editor for the San Diego Union-Tribune. He has written for TeamUSA.org since 2011 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.