A 16-year-old Colleen "CoCo" Vandeweghe could hardly describe how it felt to walk into the biggest tennis stadium in the world surrounded by 23,000 screaming fans on opening night of the 2008 U.S. Open. Yet, she remembers her first serve against the second seed clearly.
"Oh my gosh, I'm going to whiff this ball," Vandeweghe says, recalling that momentous day. She also thought during her service motion that she'd hit the back wall or bounce it before the net. Vandeweghe lost the match handily.
But no matter: Vandeweghe, who is related to former NBA players, an Olympian, and a Miss America, would win the Junior Girls' title at that year's U.S. Open as a wildcard.
"At 16 years old I'm thinking, 'I'm the best junior in the world,'" Vandeweghe says. "There's nothing more for me to do. I want to go and play professionally.'"
Almost a decade later, the 25-year-old's results are catching up to her talent and strong personality. The overpowering right-hander reached this year's Australian Open semifinals, crushing the tournament's first and seventh seeds, before making her second Wimbledon quarterfinal – not bad for someone who chose tennis at 13 because of "girls being girls" on her youth basketball team in Rancho Santa Fe, California.
"Whatever, I don't need this," Vandeweghe says she thought at the time. "I'll go over here and play tennis instead."
Good thing for tennis, as 6-foot-1 Vandeweghe is one of the sport's brightest talents. But she grew up stubborn. That's why she needed 62 stitches after accidentally getting hit by a bat after refusing to leave a baseball game in the backyard. That's also why she'll become a champion. She is too stubborn to fail and has the self-belief to back it up.
"I think everyone has that a little bit in themselves," Vandeweghe says. "You don't go into a job interview thinking you're going to bomb."
CoCo's performances in Melbourne and London have earned her plenty of admirers, but the American says she won't get complacent. She wants to ace every question asked of her.
Speaking of aces, that nervous 16-year-old's serve on opening night: an ace.